Broadband investment: Critical to the future or misplaced priority?

Broadband investment: Critical to the future or misplaced priority?

Summary: As if the efforts around broadband expansion keep getting testes, a survey finds that the majority of Americans feel that the government investment isn't as important as other things.


When it comes to the expansion of broadband in the U.S., Washington is in a no-win situation.

It's bad enough that the FCC continues to struggle to establish a national broadband policy, hampered by a defeat in a lawsuit with Comcast and now controversial headlines over a plan crafted by Google and Verizon.

Now, a survey conducted by the Pew Internet and American Life Project (PDF) finds that more than half of Americans (53 percent) think that broadband expansion in the U.S. isn't important enough to be a government priority, with some going so far as to say that efforts to expand broadband should be abandoned.

But here's one important asterisk: The "highest concentration" of people opposed to broadband expansion efforts fall into the over-50 age group, one that largely doesn't find the Internet to be relevant to their lives. That's understandable, given that the over-50 folks didn't grow up with technology the way today's teenagers have. Still, even across other age groups and demographics, the numbers against government involvement are pretty high.

With the current state of affairs in the U.S. - from the costs of war to the unemployment rates and underwater mortgages - it's easy to understand why so many Americans might find it hard to see the light at the end of the broadband tunnel as a way out of economic troubles.

But President Obama was absolutely right when he said, just before his inauguration that "It is unacceptable that the United States ranks 15th in the world in broadband adoption." Ask anyone who has ever traveled abroad and they won't hesitate to tell you how far behind the U.S., compared to other countries.

The government's investment isn't in technology. Its investment is in the widespread access to technology. If Washington is serious about making the U.S. a world leader in technology, then this is a first-step investment toward that goal.

The survey's findings don't undercut the federal government's efforts to increase the adoption of broadband, an FCC spokesperson told the Washington Post. Instead it illustrates the importance of educating Americans on the benefits of broadband as it relates to healthcare, education and jobs. Spokeswoman Jen Howard told the Post:

There are still too many barriers to broadband adoption in America. That's why the National Broadband Plan lays out a strategy for improving digital literacy and ensuring that all Americans can take full advantage of the benefits of broadband.

A few other bullet points from the survey:

  • The number of African-Americans using broadband jumped 10 percent from 2009, from 46 percent to 56 percent, while the number of whites only grew by 2 percent, from 65 percent to 67 percent. The gap between whites and African-Americans narrowed from 19 percent last year to 11 percent this year.
  • The majority of broadband subscribers pay for basic service but 36 percent, down from 39 percent last year, said they paid for premium broadband speeds. Interestingly, those who said they don't know what they subscribe to jumped to percentage points, now at 13. The study hinted that bundled packages with TV, phone, Internet and wireless may leave some people confused about the services they pay for.
  • The average broadband subscriber pays $41.18 per month for service.
  • About one-fifth, or 21 percent, of all Americans do not use the Internet

Topics: Banking, Broadband, Networking, Telcos

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.


Log in or register to join the discussion
  • RE: Broadband investment: Critical to the future or misplaced priority?

    This is a pretty common problem -- "most Americans don't", etc., etc. -- in the U.S. where the citizenry is, by and large, ill-informed, so-called political "leaders" simultaneously are at war with the other party while soliciting money and business continuously seeks to maximize ROIC by minimizing investment. And so it goes...
    • RE: Broadband investment: Critical to the future or misplaced priority?

      @rttedrow@... 100% agreed!
  • RE: Broadband investment: Critical to the future or misplaced priority?

    Could we look at the Summary again? Does it REALLY say that we need to buck up our efforts to expand broadband and "grow a pair"?
  • RE: Broadband investment: Critical to the future or misplaced priority?

    It seems to me that the reason more people don't want a "push" for universal broadband is because it's difficult for them to envision the future WITH it!! Take, for example, even religions institutions. Sometimes a person is limited, due to finances or geography, to attending only local churches ... even if they don't agree with the doctrine of that particular church. Having services available on the Internet gives anyone freedom to choose one that delights them, personally, thus allowing Each church to teach the way it wants, and Each individual to truly "worship as they please." Once in place universally, broadband will allow America to function as it was originally intended to. IMHO. (submitted twice because wasn't logged in the first time)
  • Misplaced priority

    It is ridiculous to decree that anything like this is "unacceptable". Heck, the rankings themselves are ridiculous tripe. Why do people blindly accept the value of these measurements and rankings?

    If there are those who believe we need to expand broadband access into other areas, they are free to donate to charities, and invest in organizations that are willing to pay for the expansion directly. No need for government intervention and extortion.

    If we want to have a competition on what has the most long-term benefit, let's start measuring liberty. Having the ability to honestly achieve something with fewer government roadblocks and with less government siphoning off of our hard work will do much more for our society.
    • RE: Broadband investment: Critical to the future or misplaced priority?

      "Having the ability to honestly achieve something with fewer government roadblocks and with less government siphoning off of our hard work will do much more for our society."

      Without those "government roadblocks" we would not have the interstate road system. That system makes it possible to move goods across the nation to ALL points much more conveniently and cheaply. Otherwise you would pay dearly for most of the food you eat daily. Unless, of course, you grow your own. Might be had to do if you live in a city.

      Look at history, when did beef become available to people living in the northeast? After rail lines were built. Think the railroads did it because they saw it would make money? Nope, government mandates forced them to build out to cover most of the nation - including small farms (who would have been left out otherwise).

      Like using your electricity? Do you really think it would be available everywhere had the government not mandated it? Nope, electric companies would only have laid lines and built plants where enough people lived who could afford it lived.

      How do I know this? 1) I studied history and 2) I am old enough to remember some of it.

      Before you start spouting off about liberty just do some research on how we even got the infrastructure we have and enjoy today. Unless everyone is given the availability and the option to participate in our lifestyle there is no liberty. Either we all have liberty or none of us have it.

      There are some things that government must do - infrastructure is one of them. No company will ever be willing to take on the job because they have a different focus - making money - that's their job. Government's job is to provide for the health and welfare of it's citizens. Sometimes that means mandates, other times that means investing dollars. I personally think both may be in order here.
      • RE: Broadband investment: Critical to the future or misplaced priority?

        @steeleblue_cactus <br>"Without those "government roadblocks" we would not have the interstate road system."<br><br>This statement assumes facts not in evidence. There is no reason to believe that business wouldn't have invested in innovation and infrastructure to deliver goods and services more efficiently.<br><br>RE: Government and railroads - um, I think you are seriously misinformed. Investment drove the building of railroads, and any government mandates that may have existed are not proven to have been a better alternative than relying no private investment in the long run.<br><br>Same goes for electricity. And to answer your question, yes, there would absolutely be electricity service available had the government not gotten involved. I think you underestimate the power of investment and markets.<br><br>And make no mistake, it is erroneous to assume that just because the government may have done something in the past, that this is proof that it wouldn't have happened through more natural market forces. And I highly doubt that you are old enough to "remember" the start of the railroad system. <br><br>Also note that the government continues to support programs which have proven to be unsustainable (e.g., Amtrak, USPS monopoly on first-class mail, and others), thereby using our hard-earned resources for outdated infrastructures. So you see, you aren't the only person who has studied history.<br><br>Sadly, all those arguing FOR continued government embezzlement of our futures have to completely ignore the liberties that were given up for their past activities. The existence of any benefit today does not prove anything about the value of other methods, in much the same way that drug lords' contributions to charities do not justify that their methods of attaining that money are good for us.<br><br>RE "No company will ever be willing to take on the job because they have a different focus - making money - that's their job." Don't forget, that without them making money, you HAVE NO job, and the government has no money to take from us.<br><br>Sadly though, your statement shows a strong lack of understanding about business. How do you suppose the business makes that money? And what do you suppose the business does with that money?<br><br>Until you can answer those questions, your knowledge of a market economy is questionable.<br><br>RE "Government's job is to provide for the health and welfare of it's citizens." Well, I don't know what country you live in, but in U.S.A. this categorically false. Here we are responsible for our own health and welfare. Oh, I am well aware that there are plenty of socialists who want to push this notion you've stated into the media, but for this country, that is a lie.<br><br>Perhaps you should study a bit more of the history around the founding of our system of government.
  • This makes perfect sense

    The people most resistant to government spending money on INFRASTRUCTURE are over 65. They don't work, so they don't need jobs or job skills. They grew up in post WWII America. So, the concept of global economies and understanding how martial law in Bangkok can effect your global supply chain is, forgive the pun, foreign to them. Oh, and they're already receive the largest government entitlement programs, so why should they be concerned about access to applying for assistance? Put them in line with the 30,000 people applying for section 8 in Atlanta today and see if their opinion changes.
    • RE: Broadband investment: Critical to the future or misplaced priority?

      @tkejlboom Hmm.... I don't believe a word of this - no offense. There are a lot of declarations, but no supporting evidence.<br><br>Those over 65 (and I am not one of them) have, by-and-large, already worked hard most of their lives. They were *promised* a system which would support them in their retirement - and make no mistake, this system is not sustaining them in their waning years.<br><br>In fact, that broken promise actually supports the idea that we need to keep government out of things as much as possible, and rely mostly on ourselves. Had these same people invested their money in retirement funds rather than having the government abscond with this money in a ponzi scheme called "Social Security," they would be in much better shape.

      But the fact is that there are many people under 65 who are equally resistant to further government debt, and erosion of our liberties.
  • RE: Broadband investment: Critical to the future or misplaced priority?

    Well, I'm under 65 (but not by much) and am retired. I firmly believe we need a big push to make broadband universal. It is the future. I believe it should be looked at like a utility. I am old enough to remember not having a phone. And my grandparents did not have electricity for a long time (because they live in the country).

    Those of us who are older do (or should) remember how the infrastructure we all rely on was built. The government had to mandate that electricity service, roads, bus service and rail service be provided to all areas. Otherwise people who lived in the lower population areas were just left out. There is no ROI for companies to build out their infrastructure to less populated/poorer areas because not enough people will/can afford it.

    I know it seems like a lot to spend now but it will bear fruit for our children and grandchildren. If our country had the same attitude 50 years ago as it has now we would not have the same road system, phone system, water system, etc we all enjoy now.

    One does not have to be old or young to know something is needed, one simply must be forward thinking and not selfish. Just because it is something I currently already have or don't see the need for does not mean I do not see the universal need. The future of our country depends on how we prepare. Universal broadband is one of those things that will serve all of us well - now and in the future.
    • RE: Broadband investment: Critical to the future or misplaced priority?

      This is a perfect example of how we have become like drug addicts when it comes to government programs.

      One assumption is that without the government none of this would have happened, which is a false belief.

      Another assumption is that the government did the right thing, which strangely ignores all of the evidence of government programs throughout history - remember those expensive hammers and toilet seats?

      Governments focus all investment into one solution, regardless of whether it is the right solution. The end result is never really tested against a market-oriented approach, and yet proponents of this method are more than happy to declare them all a success. Unfortunately the metric used to judge success is far to simplistic to be a true measure of the result.

      If there's a project, measuring success merely by completing the project and getting a check-mark at the end - regardless of whether it took all wrong turns to get there, or regardless of whether it actually costs more in the long run than other approaches - is a recipe for disaster.

      And that's basically what the examples of roads, electricity, etc. are: Management by check-mark.

      This is a very short-sighted approach to management and not conducive to innovation and progress.
  • RE: Broadband investment: Critical to the future or misplaced priority?

    I'm not an US citizen so I won?t directly respond with my opinion on your issue. But I do want you to note that other countries are using recession as a driver to invest in it (infrastructure), heavily. For example, Australia is committing 43bn AUD$ to establish National Broadband Network across all of the country. There has been / is a lot of discussion points on Australian decision which those who are truly interested in could reference and not try re-invent the wheel.
    I am not saying you can compare Australia to US 100%, but there are many parallels. In my opinion, the worst thing any country can do in regards to infrastructure planning (which includes broadband/telecommunications) is to do nothing. You learn nothing when you do nothing, you don?t gain skills or competitive advantage. That will bring you to the point that your own infrastructure is either owned by, or supported by non-American interests (and I won?t even go in to jobs distribution, outsourcing gripes, follow on effect on your strategic government projects and alike).
    • RE: Broadband investment: Critical to the future or misplaced priority?

      I respectfully submit that it is a false dichotomy to propose that lack of "government" (haha) investment means that a country is doing nothing.

      And don't forget that all the government is doing is taking money from your hard work and giving it to businesses to do the work.... which they will eventually turn into "making money" (which someone else here seems to indicate is an evil).

      But history has shown that the government investment doesn't necessarily produce the best, cheapest or most beneficial solution to a problem. I'd argue that it rarely achieves that, actually.

      Governments will spend the money on solutions (and with businesses) that will most help them stay in power. Maybe pulling actual broadband across the country is exactly the most expensive, least efficient, and potentially worst way to provide the service. Unfortunately, with the government ready to hand out tons of your money, which company wouldn't want to sign on to it? Even if it is a mistake, with so much money being thrown about nobody will question it.
      • Why spend money for expansion when you can legislate it instead?

        @JeffLS : Did the US government spend any money when they legislated the phone company to make phone service available to all Americans? You note that they didn't say 'Give it to all Americans,' but rather to Make it Available. That's exactly the kind of law that's needed now for broadband. It doesn't cost a penny (other than what we supposedly pay them for their time) and makes sure that the companies <i>able</i> to do it, definitely do it.

        If you believe the government has to spend money to require progress, you really don't understand law. Then again, I have to admit that most of our legislators today seem to think that law is for whomever can pay the most for it. But that's a personal problem.
  • RE: Broadband investment: Critical to the future or misplaced priority?

    First requirement is jobs. After that Broadband becomes more important.