‘Not so fast!’ is surprise reaction to broadband campaign
President Obama’s multi-billion-dollar proposal to give every home broadband access seems to be a campaign without a constituency. This is not the first time administration efforts seem guided by something other than a groundswell of consensus.
The administration has directed that $7.2 billion in stimulus fund grants target the broadband upgrade effort, declaring that universal access to the Internet will ensure “that all Americans can take advantage of the benefits of broadband.”
However, a Pew Center poll released Aug. 11 suggests the administration’s sense of urgency in the matter is misplaced. In fact, Pew reported that almost half (45%) of people who are not connected to the Internet say the government effort is inappropriate, with just 5% of non-Internet users saying the government should make it happen.
Overall, 53% of respondents said the government shouldn’t be involved or that it shouldn’t be a high priority government objective, versus 41% who believe universal access is an important or top priority.
Why is this so? Several reasons.
For one thing, a further breakdown of the polling data shows only plurality support for the assertion that non-access to employment, medical, news and government services is a “major disadvantage” to non-Internet users. For example, just 43% believe a person seeking employment is at a “major disadvantage” without Internet access. Some 23% feel that way about access to news and just 19% about access to community happenings.
So the sense of urgency about being connected to the Web is felt less keenly among Americans in general than it is among some Internet advocates in Washington.
Yet the polling results shouldn’t suggest to anyone that Americans generally are not interested in Internet access. The fact is, two-thirds of American homes have a broadband connection in 2010, which is a jump from 2004 when just one-fifth of American homes were connected. Clearly, the U.S. already is moving toward virtual universal connection.
The remaining one-third of homes are not connected for a variety of reasons – and some may never be. Millions of Americans live in rural areas where service is a more problematic financial venture regardless of government subsidies. Some Americans simply have no need for the Internet – 21% of Pew respondents say that, for example – and have chosen not to connect even when broadband access is available.
Any of us involved in telecommunications and electronic connectivity in general believe in being linked to the world. It is what we do, after all. Occupational interest aside, we individually tend to believe in the value of timely access to information and data and probably would advocate for broadband connection even if it weren’t a key to our livelihood.
Yet we understand the public’s reluctance to have government take over the effort to connect every household in the land. Consider the billions of dollars allocated to the effort, for instance. It is one thing to legislate tax incentives and to relax regulations to encourage providers to serve sparsely populated areas of the country; it is quite another to underwrite the effort with billions of tax dollars – and no one believes the first multi-billion-dollar installment will be the end of it.
Furthermore, the public’s gnawing concern about government inefficiency and its tendency to take over a tent once it gets its nose under it also is understandable. The recent push for federal dominance of several aspects of the American economy and life has left many Americans cynical about eventual outcomes of even well-intentioned efforts. This surely is why a plurality of people in the Pew poll who might benefit from universal access nevertheless are wary of the Obama administration pushing for it.
An economy built a little more on markets and a little less on “urgent” government intervention might create a whole new set of Pew numbers about broadband access.
LBA Group provides a number of services for wireless broadband.