Nearly all of these people utilize a broadband connection to the Internet to generate income. In fact, according the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project, more than 63 percent of all adults in America utilize a broadband connection to the Internet to work, and to enhance the quality of their lives.
The bad news is that the population groups most likely to be unemployed or under-employed are also the most likely to have failed to adopt broadband access to the Internet in their homes. According to the study:
- Low Income Americans (
- High School Graduates – 52 percent do not use broadband
- Rural Americans – 46 percent do not use broadband
- African Americans – 46 percent do not use broadband
A major reason given for not adopting broadband is a lack of understanding about what it can mean to the household. But interestingly, one study published in 2009 indicates that once a family has made the decision to adopt broadband, it very quickly becomes something they can’t imagine living without, such as a utility – phone, lights, or heat – because the benefits become immediately apparent.
There are several barriers to adoption – as noted both in scientific studies and from anecdotal evidence. First is the cost of broadband. For a family which may be subsisting on part-time jobs or unemployment insurance the cost can represent a significant percentage of monthly income. Thus, a family which needs new job skills, access to job listings, and even the ability to apply for a job online cannot accomplish any of those because of the cost of adoption.
A second reason is a lack of culturally appropriate content. Language barriers among non-English-speaking communities are an obvious example, but other content issues exist as well. For many American seniors, modern Internet terms are, in fact, a foreign language. For those who are visually impaired, speech-to-text software is necessary; for those who have other physical disabilities, human interface accommodations have to be met. All of this before underserved communities can even adopt broadband; much less, appreciate how it can help them once they do.
The Broadband for America (BfA) coalition consists of more than 150 members of the broadband community -- from the major network providers to small community-based organizations – committed to helping define and design programs and practices which will help close the divide between those who have broadband access and those who do not, particularly if the reason is that they do not understand broadband or its benefits to their lives.
Through its work, BfA will operate across all segments of society to look for ways to overcome the barriers to adoption, so that broadband access becomes a major tool for the unemployed and underemployed families to help them work their way back into the labor force.