Note to FCC: To drive broadband adoption, change the way it's marketed

The FCC defines non-subscribers of broadband in four categories but should change the way it's marketed to gain widespread adoption.

The FCC, gearing up to unveil a major plan to bring high-speed Internet access to all Americans, has released a report (PDF) that's chock full of statistical data related to Americans and the Internet. The 52-page report offers a peek at what drives adoption of broadband, including average monthly service charges, age groups most likely to use and reasons that people don't subscribe.

The Wall Street Journal pulled out an interesting data point - only four percent of Americans have no access to broadband but 35 percent do not subscribe to broadband. What's keeping the other 31 percent away?

To answer that question and come up with ways to bring all Americans into the Internet age, the FCC placed non-subscribers into four categories:

  • The Digitally Distant represent about 10 percent of the U.S. population, which includes a large number people age 63 and older. About half of this group are retirees who don't subscribe because the don't know how to use a PC or don't see the point of the Internet.
  • Digitally Uncomfortables, which make up about 7 percent, can afford the Internet and nearly all have computers at home but :either lack skills to use them or have luke warm feelings about the Internet.
  • Digital Hopefuls, which make up about 8 percent, want to subscribe but can't afford the average $41 per month. The group is overwhelmingly African-American and Hispanics, with non-English speakers making up a good portion. Some have PCs but some are not tech savvy at all,
  • Near Converts, which make up about 10 percent, are mostly dial-up users because they don't want to pay $40 for broadband. They're relative young (median age of 45) and many use broadband at work to do things like shop online.

If the government wants everyone in the nation to have access to broadband, wouldn't it help to change the way people think about broadband. Right now, broadband represents access to that Internet-through-a-Web-browser-on-a-PC model. For a lot of people, especially the Digitally Distant and the Digitally Uncomfortable, the idea of typing in URLs, clicking on links, doing Google searches or even trying to find a YouTube video can be an intimidating experience.

But if broadband was marketed as more of utility - the electricity that powers the Pandora icon on your desktop or the back-end system that powers a (VoIP) telephone service or even the pipeline that brings digital newspapers and magazines into a new iPad every morning - then maybe some of those folks might be less intimidated and actually find some value there.

At the same time, sell the Digital Hopefuls and Near Converts on broadband as a service for the home, something they need to power the television and bring in not only CBS football games and Univision telenovelas but also YouTube or Vudu, the soon-to-be-owned-by-WalMart company that streams movies. And with the arrival of Web-connected TV sets introduced at the Consumer Electronics Show earlier this year, it's not so far-fetched to imagine that market broadband as the new cable or satellite TV.

Here's the thing: there will always be some people in this country who won't ever subscribe. I know some people who use the computer at work but won't have one in their homes. For some, the same goes for TVs. For them. broadband simply isn't something they need.

As the saying goes, you can lead a horse to water but you can't force him to drink. In the case of broadband, there will always be some people who say "No, thanks."

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