Although it had only been in its new office location for less than three weeks, the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies continued with old business recently with its “Broadband, the Economy, and Driving Adoption” panel discussion.
In collaboration with Comcast, the Joint Center gathered a panel of broadband data experts and pragmatists to identify the factors impeding high broadband adoption rates in low adopting communities, share real-world examples of the effects of broadband in low-income and minority communities, and discuss lessons learned in convincing the aforementioned communities to adopt broadband.
Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Julius Genachowski delivered remarks prior to the main discussion and emphasized the increase in prevalence of broadband across the country.
“Four years ago, these issues were issues that technology folks talked about,” he began. “It’s changed dramatically in the last few years, and I’m seeing people all over the country outside of these circles understand the benefits of it.”
While technology enthusiasts and people beyond the Beltway recognize and experience the benefits of broadband, Genachowski mentioned that nearly one-third of the United States’ population has not realized the many advantages broadband offers.
Bruce Leichtman, president and principal analyst at Leichtman Research Group, and Madura Wijewardena, director of research and policy at the National Urban League Policy Institute, pinpointed the divides within home broadband adoption rates.
Leichtman suggested that income and age were significant divides in relation to broadband adoption, noting that nearly all households with incomes above $50,000 subscribe to broadband (91 percent) and have a computer at home (97 percent), while households that earn under $30,000 have lower broadband subscription rates (47 percent) and are not likely to have a home computer (59 percent). He also said that based on his firm’s research, low adoption rates could be attributed to lack of “hardware” and “knowledge,” rather than prior leading reasons such as cost and accessibility.
Wijewardena indicated that race and education were also dividers and offered a couple of “optimistic points” regarding the narrowing adoption gap between blacks and whites.
“It’s fair to say that things are improving,” he said. “At a time when business development is on the decline, black business creation has increased.”
Urban Affairs Coalition Government and Strategic Partnerships Director Arun Prabahakaran and University of District Columbia Community College Deputy Chief Executive Officer Dr. Julie Johnson shared the lessons they learned while trying to get more low-income and communities of color to adopt broadband at home.
Johnson and Prabahakaran said that they realized that groups with low broadband adoption rates often have “a low perception of need” and “think free is too good to be true,” referring to low-income broadband adoption programs such as Comcast’s Internet Essentials initiative.
Both pragmatists also realized that one way to encourage broadband adoption in these groups was to host digital literacy classes in places they trust the most because these groups often go where to places where they are most familiar and that are close to home.
To attract and encourage more groups to participate in digital divide classes, Wijewardena recommended that the terms “jobs” and “businesses” be linked to marketing and other communications efforts. He suggested that having jobs and business development is a better “hook” than just saying “we have a digital literacy program.”
In his remarks, Genachowski also mentioned that while technology is a huge opportunity for business and education, the biggest obstacle is lack of home broadband access.
“We have to innovate for equity,” Johnson said.
The “Broadband, the Economy, and Driving Adoption” panel discussion was facilitated by the Joint Center’s Media and Technology Institute Vice President and Director Dr. John B. Horrigan. Horrigan was one of the lead team members on the FCC’s 2009 National Broadband Plan, as well as author of the Plan’s first working paper titled Broadband Adoption and Use in America.