Broadband availability

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Managing editor's note: This article is part of the 2007 project to build an open library of research and data to inform Sen. Dick Durbin's national broadband policy project. Please help out by expanding these articles - a good place to start is to look through the links listed under "external resources" in the article's sections and/or at the end of the article.

Americans have been adopting broadband, or high-speed Internet access, but one important question is whether they have been doing it fast enough. Broadband is an increasingly important part of the economy and daily life, but is unavailable or unaffordable to many Americans. Still, the Pew Internet & American Life Project’s annual and semi-annual surveys about broadband adoption show a consistent pattern of increase. In 2005, 30 percent of Americans subscribed to broadband in their homes, and those numbers had risen to 42 percent in 2006 and 47 percent in 2007. The exact degree of broadband penetration in the U.S. is unclear due to a lack of publicly available data, as is how much complete broadband penetration would cost if done by the public or private sectors.

Contents

Current broadband availability policy changes

On July 24, 2007, Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) began hosting an "open legislation" initiative on the OpenLeft.com and RedState websites. He engaged in several nights of live-blogging and will post draft legislation online for comments and feedback before filing a bill. (Congresspedia is building a knowledge base for the effort here.) [1]

President George W. Bush had stated on April 26, 2004 that broadband deployment was a national priority, saying "I'm talking about broadband technology to every corner of our country by the year 2007 with competition shortly thereafter." FCC Chairman Kevin Martin, who was appointed FCC commissioner by President Bush in 2001 and became agency chairman in 2005, has repeatedly said that broadband is his number-one priority. [2]


Arguments about broadband availability and expanding it

"High-speed Internet access is fast becoming a basic public necessity — just like water, gas or electricity. But far too many Americans find themselves on the wrong side of the digital divide, unable to get connected or afford expensive commercial service. Community Internet is an effective way to address America's broadband problem on the local level."

Current broadband availability

General availability of broadband in the U.S.

Research on broadband adoption shows that Americans are adopting broadband.

The Pew Internet & American Life Project’s annual and semi-annual surveys about broadband adoption show a consistent pattern of increase. The latest “Home Broadband Adoption” report of June 2007 shows that 47 percent of Americans receive broadband in their homes. [3]

Pew’s 2005 report argued that broadband adoption at home in the U.S. was “growing but slowing.”[4]

Pew’s 2005 report created the following model of broadband adoption:

  1. People do more things online the longer they’ve been online.
  2. Dial-up users are more likely to want broadband the longer they’ve been online.
  3. Not everyone wants broadband – and these are typically people with less online experience who are processing fewer bits.
  4. High-speed users switch to broadband in order to process more bits, less so because of price.[5]

Under this model, the decision to get broadband depended upon the “intensity of internet use,” which in turn is a function of time online and connection speed. Considering this model, Horrigan concluded in 2005 that while “years of online experience” may have driven broadband adoption in 2002, early in the growth phase, that was no longer the case in 2005. [6]

It was somewhat unexpected, therefore, that the Pew 2006 report found home broadband adoption growing 40 percent from March 2005 to March 2006 – twice the growth rate as the year prior. “A significant part of the increase is tied to internet newcomers who have bypassed dial-up connections and gone straight to high-speed connections. This is a striking change from the previous pattern of broadband adoption.” [7]

Among the factors, many of them new for that year, that Horrigan identified:

  • Strong growth in broadband adoption by African Americans and by those with low levels of education.
  • Increasing DSL market share, driven by aggressive price-cutting by DSL providers.
  • 48 million Internet users posting online content, the majority being home broadband users.
  • Awareness about Voice over Internet Protocol shot up 86 percent between February 2004 and December 2005.[8]

Federal Communications Commission data over the same period of time shows a similar trend. The number of “high speed lines” (200 kilobits per second in either direction) grew 32 percent, from 32.5 million on June 30, 2004, to 42.9 million on June 30, 2005.[9] The number of such lines grew 52 percent, from 42.4 million to 64.6 million, by June 30, 2006. [10]

Of those 64.6 million lines (the most recent total from the FCC), 50.3 million served primarily residential end-users. And of those residential broadband connections, the FCC reported 55.2 percent of subscriptions were cable modem connections, 40.1 percent were asymmetric digital subscriber line (DSL) connections, 0.2 percent were symmetric DSL or traditional wireline connections, 0.9 percent were fiber connections, and 3.7 percent were other types of technologies, including satellite, terrestrial fixed or mobile wireless (licensed or unlicensed) and electric power lines. [11]

The FCC says that broadband is available via DSL to 79 percent of local telephone company subscribers, and via cable modem to 93 percent of cable television subscribers. [12]

It is increasingly clear that there are two major groups of people who have not yet subscribed to broadband: dial-up users, and non-Internet users. Dial-up users may be “happy dial-up users” because they get what they want out of their slower Internet experience. Or, they may be frustrated dial-up users because of price or, more likely, availability constraints on broadband.

Non-Internet users are those who have, for whatever reason, rejected the Internet experience. Occasionally, as was seen in the spike of broadband adoption from March 2005 to March 2006, they can be lured directly to broadband subscriber status. But many simply wish to avoid aspects of the Internet, such as pornography, and the threat of various forms of identity theft.


Data on broadband availability is largely unavailable

Main article: Broadband data

How the United States ranks in broadband availability

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In global surveys of countries' per-capita broadband usage by the International Telecommunications Union, an arm of the United Nations, the U.S. fell from 12th in 2004 to 16th in 2005 before rising to 15th in 2006. The U.S. currently ranks number 12 among the smaller group of developed countries that constitute the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. [13]

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Rural vs. urban broadband penetration

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Community broadband

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Competition in the broadband private sector

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Issues in expanding broadband availability

Economic benefits

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Costs of extending broadband

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Using wireless broadband to expand availability

Main article: Spectrum

Network neutrality and broadband availability

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Expanding availability via the private sector vs. public sector

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Recent broadband legislation

The telecommunications policy landscape has recently been dramatically reconfigured by two major events: the collapse of the telecommunications overhaul legislation of 2006, and the Democratic takeover of Congress. The bill, the Communications Opportunity, Promotion, and Enhancement (COPE) Act of 2006, was far-reaching bill that affected many areas of telecom policy.[14]

House Republican leaders were the driving force behind the bill, as were the Bell companies. AT&T, BellSouth (since merged with AT&T), Verizon and Qwest Communications International and their lobbying arm, the U.S. Telecom Association, had made passage of the bill a key legislative priority. It would have allowed the Bell companies to string cable television wires without having to get approval by local governments. However, the bill also had the support of many Democrats, as was illustrated by the 321-101 vote it received to pass the House. [15]


The Senate's version of the COPE Act, S.2686, died in the Senate after an amendment to require "network neutrality" – a prohibition on Internet providers speeding up or slowing down Web content based on its source, ownership or destination – tied 11-11 in committee. The vote took place after a massive grassroots mobilization by the SavetheInternet.com Coalition in favor of preserving network neutrality. After the committee vote the bill received little action and legislators turned more specifically to the issue of broadband penetration. [16]

Main article: Network neutrality legislation

Articles and resources

Related SourceWatch resources

References

Acknowledgment: A portion of this article originated from "Center Spearheads Efforts to Disclose Broadband Data: Telco Deployment by ZIP Code at Issue in Legislation", by Drew Clark, Senior Fellow and Project Manager at the Center for Public Integrity's Well Connected Project, originally published on June 27, 2007.

  1. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), "Legislation 2.0: Getting our discussion underway," on OpenLeft.com, July 24, 2007.
  2. Complaint by Center for Public Integrity, Well Connected Project, September 25, 2006.
  3. Home Broadband Adoption 2007. Pew Internet & American Life Project, June 2007. John B. Horrigan, Associate Director for Research, and Aaron Smith, Research Specialist. Page 1.
  4. Broadband Adoption at Home in the United States: Growing But Slowing. Pew Internet & American Life Project, Presented to the 33rd Annual Telecommunications Policy Research Conference, September 24, 2005. John B. Horrigan, Associate Director for Research.
  5. Broadband Adoption at Home in the United States: Growing But Slowing. Pew Internet & American Life Project, Presented to the 33rd Annual Telecommunications Policy Research Conference, September 24, 2005. John B. Horrigan, Associate Director for Research.
  6. Broadband Adoption at Home in the United States: Growing But Slowing. Pew Internet & American Life Project, Presented to the 33rd Annual Telecommunications Policy Research Conference, September 24, 2005. John B. Horrigan, Associate Director for Research.
  7. Home Broadband Adoption 2006: Home broadband adoption is going mainstream and that means user-generated content is coming from all kinds of internet users. Pew Internet & American Life Project, May 28, 2006. John B. Horrigan, Associate Director for Research.
  8. Home Broadband Adoption 2006: Home broadband adoption is going mainstream and that means user-generated content is coming from all kinds of internet users. Pew Internet & American Life Project, May 28, 2006. John B. Horrigan, Associate Director for Research.
  9. High-Speed Services for Internet Access: Status as of June 30, 2005. Industry Analysis and Technology Division, Wireline Competition Bureau, Federal Communications Commission, April 2006.
  10. High-Speed Services for Internet Access: Status as of June 30, 2006. Industry Analysis and Technology Division, Wireline Competition Bureau, Federal Communications Commission, January 2007.
  11. High-Speed Services for Internet Access: Status as of June 30, 2006. Industry Analysis and Technology Division, Wireline Competition Bureau, Federal Communications Commission, January 2007.
  12. High-Speed Services for Internet Access: Status as of June 30, 2006. Industry Analysis and Technology Division, Wireline Competition Bureau, Federal Communications Commission, January 2007.
  13. Center Spearheads Efforts to Disclose Broadband Data, Well Connected Project, June 27, 2007.
  14. Center Spearheads Efforts to Disclose Broadband Data, Well Connected Project, June 27, 2007.
  15. Center Spearheads Efforts to Disclose Broadband Data, Well Connected Project, June 27, 2007.
  16. Complaint by Center for Public Integrity, Well Connected Project, September 25, 2006.

External resources

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