In 2009, 64% of American households had a broadband connection. In 2010, that number bumped up to 68%.
I’m not pulling these numbers out of a hat. They’re courtesy of a new report from the Department of Commerce’s Economics and Statistics Administration (ESA) and the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA). Entitled “Exploring the Digital Nation: Computer and Internet Use at Home,” the report looks at not just percentages of households connected, but more importantly, reasons why households may not be online.
On the percentage front: Given the economic and social benefits of having a connection to the Internet, both the 2009 and 2010 numbers are still far too low. Still, a % bump is a % bump, and the trend line is certainly encouraging; as the report highlights, just three years ago the number of households with a connection was a paltry 51%.
But while tracking the increase in household adoption is certainly valuable, ESA and NTIA’s report packs its real punch in the examination of why. From the report:
Here is what we know: Households that do not subscribe to any Internet service — dial-up or broadband — cited as the main reasons a lack of need or interest (47%); lack of affordability (24%); and an inadequate computer (15%).
That first number should jump out at you (and not just because I bolded it). In this day and age, 47% —nearly half — of those who are not connected feel they don’t need or just plain aren’t interested in being online at home. While many of them truly have no interest in a home connection (perhaps they only want to be on a computer at work), such a high percentage suggests that one hurdle to closing the digital divide is education.
Obviously we can’t — and shouldn’t — try to force people who are genuinely uninterested in being connected to embrace the Internet. And certainly, mobile broadband can replace the need for a home broadband connection for many, as adoption rates in the African American and Hispanic communities have shown.
But if a lack of technological savvy is keeping people from joining the digital age, that is something America should be correcting, by public or private means. Why? Well, ESA and NTIA’s report words it perfectly:
A digitally connected population, which helps foster innovation, economic growth and social communication, is critical for U.S. competitiveness in a global economy.
It’s hard to argue with that.