Broadband Adoption in Low-Income Communities

The Social Science Research Council has just released a major report:  Broadband Adoption in Low-Income Communities.  Based on a unique qualitative study of the people traditionally on the margins of the policy-making process (low-income, minority, non-English speaking) it provides a unique view of the barriers to broadband adoption and effective use that remain in the United States.  Some of the core findings:

  • Broadband access is increasingly a requirement of socio-economic inclusion, not an outcome of it—and residents of low-income communities know this.
  • Price is only one factor shaping the fragile equilibrium of home broadband adoption, and price pressures go beyond the obvious challenge of high monthly fees. Hardware costs, hidden fees, billing transparency, quality of service, and availability are major issues for low-income communities.
  • Libraries and other community organizations fill the gap between low home adoption and high community demand, and provide a number of other critical services, such as training and support. These support organizations are under severe pressure to meet community connectivity needs, leading to widespread perceptions of a crisis in the provider community.

A major challenge for public policy makers is understanding how to make decisions about people who are unlike themselves.  In the past, this has meant creating “evidence-based policy” based on polling or survey data.  But now policy-makers are beginning to understand how qualitative research can provide the detail and context they need.  This study shows how this research can contribute to evidence-based policy:  it complements a phone survey commissioned by the FCC.