Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Article #4 A Nation Online: Entering the Broadband Age

it's a shame that i had a conversation yesterday where i took the position that grad students didn't get senioritis, and here i am the last of my group to post-up and still putting it off for no good reason other than sheer laziness. my lethargy might have been a good thing though, since i was able to spot a thoroughly pertinent article in the interim which i might have missed had i posted earlier in the afternoon.

i was assigned the last article, "A Nation Online: Entering the Broadband Age", which was kind of a bummer at first ("i get the one that's 15 pages?! National Telecommunications and Information Administration, US Department of Commerce? boring!") but this quickly changed to elation once i realized that it was in big print with lots of graphs.

I keed! I keed!

so, the reading was basically a run down of the growth of broadband usage between Sept 01 and oct 03, as well as examine the ways that broadband users differ from dial up users. the article is broken down into four distinct sections: access & use, online behavior, the effects of geography, and reasons for non use.

in the three year window being examined, the number of households with internet grew by 12.6%, adding almost 7 million internet users to the world. the number of homes using cable connections almost doubled (from 6.6 mil to 12.6 mil), and the number of homes using dsl almost tripled (from 3.3 mil to 9.3 mil). interestingly, the number of dial up users, still the visible majority of internet users, experienced an almost 13% decrease. in short, this is a very visible sign that internet users are changing over to using broadband for their internet needs.

the online behavior section of the reading was a pretty straight forward look at the differences in the different ways that broadband and dial-up users interact with the internet. this section was broken down into its own little set of sections: communications (almost everyone uses email, regardless of their connection level), entertainment ("dial up users are more like those without the internet at home in terms of their use of the internet for entertainment"), transactions (there were obvious differences, specifically with online banking, but it's obvious that people still rocking dial-up are able to get their on once and a while), and information, which i thought of as reference (it was around this time that a lot of the simple search sites were hitting their stride and "to google" was becoming a valid verb, so everyone was more or less using the internet to get health advice, news, weather and sports info).

not surprisingly, people who live in rural areas are less likely to have broadband than people in urban areas, especially "central cities." the reading makes some pretty valid reasons why this might be, including the lack of cable access, the higher price tag that might go with a lower subscriber base, and the limited range of dsl services from their central switching offices. very simply, the availability of broadband internet in rural areas is a road filled with many more potholes than in urban areas.

shockingly, 41.3% of all americans still don't use the internet at all, from anywhere, according to the reading. the main reasons for people not using the internet, or not switching to broadband were that they weren't interested or thought they didn't need it, and that it was too expensive.

reading this article i thought often of grand parents sitting in their recliners. they're the ones not using the internet, making up almost half of america that doesn't us the internet, right? well, probably not, but that number is still upsetting, and one that seems very pertinent given this quote regarding the recent stimulus package that features a huge chunk of money headed towards giving a lot of broadband breaks: “The first rule of technology investment is you spend time understanding the end user, what they need and the conditions under which they will use the technology,” said Craig Settles, an industry analyst and consultant who has studied broadband applications in rural and urban areas. “If you don’t do this well, you end up throwing millions or, in this case, potentially billions down a rat hole. You will spend money for things that people don’t need or can’t use.”

we've some a long way since 2003, but are there still a significant enough number of people to make a massive part of the stimulus package a "$9 billion cyberbridge to nowhere?"


  1. I agree that we've come a long way since 2003. That was my primary reaction while reading this article. I think you pointed out in class, Chris, that you don't even know anyone who uses dial-up anymore. With the exception of a few older relatives I suspect might, I'm pretty much in the same boat. I also know a lot of people who switched to broadband right around the 2002-2003 time period, and I expect the data from 2003-2008 would show much more dramatic numbers than the period covered in this article.

    One good thing about broadband that wasn't really addressed in this article is its ability (theoretically) to lessen the digital divide through initiatives like the recent "MadCity Broadband" venture. (That being said, I've never been able to connect to it!)But that still doesn't alleviate the difficulties rural communities face, of course....

  2. I was really struck reading these articles that even though computer/internet at the same challenges kept surfacing, for example rural vs. urban vs. central city, socioeconomic, educational level, etc. There are still major barriers to access affecting the same parts of society decade after decade. This ties directly back to the articles we read for last week. People are continuing to fall through the cracks. I think Shauna's point about our assumption that people walking into libraries know how to do a basic google search. The readings demonstrate that not everyone is familiar with computers and that there are direct links to deeper societal problems that often get overlooked.

  3. I was talking with a friend on Sunday night and we ended up discussing e-mail accounts. She mentioned that her high school provided e-mail accounts for the students. She graduated in 2001. Thinking back to our conversation last Thursday about typing assignments in high school and question that perhaps the socioeconomic level of the high school might have influenced when schools started required typed assignments, I asked her about the socioeconomic level of her high school. She said that it was a bunch of farm kids in Iowa. Her response was somewhat surprising especially in the light of the rural/urban internet use stats we read last week and that she graduated before the broadband boom.