This post was written with research and input from Olivia Trusty.
The Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF) recently published a report, “The Whole Picture: Where America’s Broadband Networks Really Stand,” in which it assesses the deployment, performance, and price of broadband in America in comparison to other nations. The report makes a solid case that the U.S. is doing well when it comes to building advanced networks across the country. ITIF also examines broadband adoption and highlights some challenges to increasing adoption rates in the United States, which have recently stagnated. This continues to be a thorn in our side, especially given the benefits we know broadband can bring to every American.
Broadband adoption is a complex issue. Consumer adoption of any good or service is driven by a variety of factors, and it is not always easy to determine the main factors influencing consumer demand. On the one hand, adoption of many technologies in the home, from televisions to dishwashers has been fairly widespread over time. By comparison, the uptake of broadband in the home has been very rapid. We’re seeing even faster adoption of mobile broadband via smartphones and tablets, and some people are already relying on mobile connectivity as their primary source of broadband.
ITIF’s report presents several reasons for consumers’ choice to forgo broadband, including price, availability, and lack of computer access. Lack of relevance, however, is one of the reasons most commonly cited by consumers. Translation: they have not seen a compelling reason to get connected to the Internet. So how do we identify and readily address consumer ambivalence toward broadband to help increase adoption rates?
Today, most Internet use relates to e-commerce, entertainment, social networking and information gathering. However, for some non-adopters, broadband could become more relevant and meaningful when it is used to fundamentally address needs and solve problems in ways not possible before, such as improving educational outcomes, making health care more accessible and improving outcomes for patients, managing energy usage in our homes, or reducing congestion on commuter routes. Broadband platforms can help in all of these areas, and in the process, provide more compelling reasons for people to want to connect to broadband networks and the Internet.
In education, for example, broadband technologies have helped improve access to needed educational resources for all students, support long-distance and remote learning, develop curriculum and teaching strategies that better meet the ways individual students learn, and help assess and analyze student and teacher success and progress. With modern high speed networks, cloud based processing and intelligence, highly customizable software, and more capable technologies, it is now possible to create learning regimens that fit the personal learning styles of each student.
Similarly, in health care, broadband technologies have helped increase access to quality care, decrease costs, and improve health outcomes through remote patient monitoring, real-time video consultations, remote diagnostics, and medical applications that enable and promote self-management among consumers. None of this is commonplace today, but in a few years it will be as our CEO recently pointed out.
Making broadband relevant means using it as a platform to transform key systems that are important to the daily lives of each one of us. Broadband is the Powerful Answer that supports and enables innovative platforms and technologies that can - and are - transforming the lives of people everywhere. As the market continues to generate demand for advancements in broadband technologies, we can expect new online services and applications in health care, education, and other areas. It is those types of services that may make today’s broadband non-adopters tomorrow’s broadband consumers. There are also policy challenges in some of those areas, and in a future blog post, I’ll talk about those. Removing them can help increase the use of broadband as well.