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Most Americans without broadband don't want it

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While the US government is considering spending $6bn to expand broadband access to under-served areas as part of a wider economic stimulus package, a new survey suggests most American high-speed internet holdouts simply aren't interested in broadband.

The study released yesterday by the research firm Pew Internet & American Life Project indicates that the barriers to greater broadband adoption in the US run much deeper than a lack of availability.

Penned by Pew's Associate Director for Research John Horrigan, the study takes into account separate surveys of both dial-up users and people who go without internet entirely. The 4,245 folks polled were asked for the reasons they don't have a broadband connection at home.

For dial-up users, 35 per cent said the price of broadband needs to drop before they'd make the switch. A surprising 19 per cent responded that nothing would make them upgrade to broadband.

Only 14 per cent cited a lack of availability where they live as the reason for living with dial-up.

For non-internet users, the majority (33 per cent) of respondents said they simply weren't interested in getting online. Only 13 per cent said they don't have internet access at home because it's not available.

Other reasons cited by non-internet users: the internet is too difficult (9 per cent), it's too expensive (9 per cent), it's a waste of time (7 per cent), they're too busy (7 per cent), and they're too old to learn (3 per cent).

Adding both tallies together, Horrigan finds that only 14 per cent don't have broadband at home because of a lack of availability. This certainly would seem to undermine the potential of Obama's broadband stimulus plan.

According to the poll, larger issues keeping Americans away from broadband are cost and difficulty. By the numbers, 18 per cent avoid broadband because of te price, and 17 per cent cited issues of usability (they think it's too difficult, they have a disability, etc.)

The largest barrier — and probably the hardest to combat with a government program — is good ol' fashion American apathy and indignation. More than half (51 per cent) of respondents just aren't interested in broadband.

"To be sure, targeting efforts to address infrastructure gaps and cost barriers could, within a few years, boost broadband adoption by as much as 10 percentage points," Horrigan wrote. "And one-third of existing broadband subscribers are low hanging fruit to adopt faster broadband soon after its available. However, one-in-five Americans currently don't have broadband for reasons that won't be addressed by price cuts or a fiber node in the neighborhood. It will take time to get them up and running on broadband -- probably longer than the impacts of a stimulus package are intended to last."

Of course, the $6bn broadband funding included in the stimulus bill isn't the end-all of Obama's broadband deployment promises. According to whitehouse.gov, the president's plans do include promotion of next-generation internet technologies and addressing its cost. ®

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