American broadband continues to grow, but unevenly

Home broadband continues to grow in the United States, according to the latest Pew Internet & American Life data.

Some key findings include: dialup access is dropping:


Still, 70% isn’t even 3/4ths of the US.  The digital divide persists: “20% of Americans have neither a home broadband connection nor a smartphone.”  That’s one fifth of the country.  A lot of people in 2013.

The smartphone as alternative to desktop/laptop broadband option is rising: “10% of Americans indicate that they do not have a broadband connection at home but that they do own a smartphone…”

Broadband demographics remain consistent: “factors most correlated with home broadband adoption continue to be educational attainment, age, and household income.”  Let me tease out some details:

  • The urban/suburban versus rural gap remains significant, and usually underappreciated.
  • The age gap persists, and might be deeper than it seems:

“we find that 80% of young adults ages 18-29 have a high-speed broadband at home, compared with 43% of seniors ages 65 and older—a gap of 37 percentage points. If we include smartphone ownership in our definition of home broadband, this gap actually increases to 49 percentage points, because young adults are more likely than seniors to own smartphones as well.” [emphasis in original]

What does this mean for education?

First, it depends on the institution.  Broadly speaking, K-12 and traditional-age undergraduate schools can with some confidence expect most (but not all) students to have broadband at home.  Campuses focusing on adult learners, in contrast, can’t assume broadband at all.  This impacts their decisions about media, course management systems, etc.

Second, we need to bear in mind geographical differences.  It’s too easy to assume people live in urban or suburban environments, especially in the technology world.  Broadband access is harder to obtain in rural America.  Smartphones don’t do much to help this.

Third, we need to celebrate the role of public libraries in providing access.  They are workhorses for learners needing to get online at decent speeds.

What else do you conclude from this update?



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3 Responses to American broadband continues to grow, but unevenly

  1. VanessaVaile says:

    Very glad to see this recognized. Nothing new to me – try combining multiple factors, senior with no official institutional affiliation living in high poverty level rural community…surrounded online by network that assumes everybody has high speed access. Sometimes that can make me very cranky.

    Libraries are indeed the indispensable and often unsung workhorses for public but, especially when underfunded, not always up to the workload. Our local community library (limited hours, 100% volunteer staffed) has 3-4 public access computers. There are a few hotspots but no McD’s, Starbucks or their ilk. Fortunately, the county’s local ABE/GED classroom facility computers are also open to the public.There is also one at the Senior Center. Seniors and others with health issues limiting getting around and without reliable transportation are screwed.

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