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Online fear, loathing, and not giving a damn

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A new study from the US Federal Communications Commission says that 93 million Americans don't have broadband internet access at home.

Most non-adopters cite "affordability and lack of digital skills" as the reasons for not steering themselves into the fast lane of the information superhighway, but many fear or are disgusted by the web. And millions just don't care.

FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski isn't happy with these numbers. "In the 21st century, a digital divide is an opportunity divide," he said in a statement (PDF). "To bolster American competitiveness abroad and create the jobs of the future here at home, we need to make sure that all Americans have the skills and means to fully participate in the digital economy."

The study says that 15 million Americans think that broadband access is irrelevant, calling the internet "a waste of time" and saying there's no content of interest to them or that they're satisfied with dial-up.

These findings are detailed in a 51-page report (PDF), "Broadband Adoption and Use in America," based on a survey (PDF) of 5,005 American conducted last October and November. The survey was authorized by the Broadband Data Improvement Act signed into law by George W. Bush in October 2008.

Of the roughly 60 million adult Americans who don't use the internet at all, 47 per cent cited cost and complexity and 45 per cent agreed with the survey statement that "I am worried about all the bad things that can happen if I use the Internet." Thirty-five percent were of the opinion that "There is nothing on the Internet I want to see or use," and one third thought "The Internet is just a waste of time."

Of all respondents who told the FCC that they don't have broadband - both dial-up and non-internet users - only 4 per cent said that the reason was lack of availability. More important to them was "too much pornography and offensive material" (65 per cent) and their belief that it's "too easy for my personal information to be stolen online" (57 per cent)."

The survey is part of the run-up to the FCC's National Broadband Plan, which will be delivered to Congress on March 17. According to the FCC's statement, this plan "details a strategy for connecting the country to affordable, world-class broadband."

Of course, "affordable" means different things to different people. Of those who currently have broadband, the average cost is a bit over $40 per month. Those who don't have broadband said they'd be willing to pay, on average, around $25 per month. And 20 per cent said they wouldn't pay anything.

It's not that those Americans without broadband are technophobes: 80 percent have either satellite or cable television, 70 per cent have cell phones, and 42 per cent have at least one working computer at home.

It appears that the FCC has its work cut out for it to achieve its goal of achieving "US global leadership in high-speed Internet to create jobs and spur economic growth; to unleash new waves of innovation and investment; and to improve education, health care, energy efficiency, public safety, and the vibrancy of our democracy."

Millions of Americans don't care, don't want broadband, don't want to pay for it, and find the internet either offensive or dangerous. ®

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