March 17, 2010, 10:21 AM — Let's say that the http://www.fcc.gov/ ">Federal Communications Commission's $15.5 billion broadband deployment plan helps produce the fastest nationwide broadband network in the world -- is there any guarantee that more people will use it?
Here's the problem: surveys conducted by both the Federal Communications Commission and the Pew Research Center have found that roughly one-fifth of people who don't use broadband in the United States say they don't feel comfortable accessing the Web, while another fifth of non-users say they don't see the need for broadband connectivity. In other words, you can build all the 100Mbps Web connections you want but it doesn't necessarily mean that it will lead to universal adoption.
To its credit the FCC recognizes this potential pitfall, which is why it has included a series of recommendations in its national broadband plan aimed at spurring wider broadband adoption. Among other things, the FCC advises launching a government-sponsored National Digital Literacy Corps that will teach communities how to properly use broadband technology in libraries, museums and other community centers; exploring the use of mobile technology as a gateway to more robust broadband use; and creating an online digital literacy portal to "create high-quality online lessons that users can access and use at their own pace."
There is no one right way to promote broadband adoption, of course, which is why the FCC is recommending several options simply to get a better idea of what works. For example, there are different challenges in promoting broadband in urban areas where people have access to broadband but not a perceived need for it and in rural areas where users might have neither the access nor the perceived need, according to John Horrigan, the consumer research director at the FCC.
"Rural Americans are more likely to have infrastructure availability problems," says Horrigan, who notes that only 50% of Americans in rural areas currently use broadband in their homes versus 65% of Americans in the country as a whole. "But if we did build out into rural areas there would be some rural Americans who would sign up for get broadband right away since they might already have experience with broadband at work but not at home."