We're getting mixed signals on the progress being made on broadband access. Two studies -- on overall penetration and uptake in school systems -- show significant increases. A study on access to broadband by low-income Americans doesn’t show such good progress, however.
Leichtman Research Group reported in early December that 81 percent of U.S. households have broadband in their homes. That’s an increase from a paltry 26 percent a decade ago. Ninety-seven percent of Internet service in homes is broadband, which is an increase of 6 percent since 2010 and 57 percent since 2005. Leichtman’s press release offers other findings, including the fact that 84 percent of households subscribe to an Internet service and 69 percent of adults access the Internet on a phone.
The presentation of longer-than-usual historical percentages is particularly useful. The point is that tremendous changes have occurred. Indeed, it is not an exaggeration to say that broadband had changed society.
The news was not as good for lower-income Americans, as reported by Motherboard. The Brookings Institute's Metropolitan Policy Program found that fewer than half – 46.8 percent – of U.S. households with an income of less than $20,000 subscribe to broadband. Brookings pegs the broadband penetration of homes with family incomes of at least $50,000 at 88.8 percent.
The news from schools is good. EducationSuperHighway, according to US News and World Report, found there have been significant increases since 2013. Two years ago, 30 percent of school districts were meeting Federal Communication Commission (FCC) minimums of 100 kilobits per second (kbps). Schools serving 40 million students fell short.
Today, the story said, that number has been cut in half. Seventy-seven percent of school districts – representing 59 percent of schools and 53 percent of students – are over the threshold. The number of teachers with broadband has exploded over the two-year period – from 300,000 to 1.7 million. The story credits the current administration:
The speedy shift is thanks in part to a three-pronged effort that included a $1.5 billion boost to the FCC's E-Rate program cap, supercharging the program's annual broadband funding. The issue also was highlighted by the Obama administration's ConnectED initiative, and groups like EducationSuperHighway have been working with governors, school districts, state-level officials and service providers to help fill the broadband gap.
At any given point in broadband history, the answer to the question of how broadband penetration is growing is about the same: Significant strides are being made, but a lot of work remains to be done. These reports paint that picture. The good news is that the raw numbers continue on an upward arc. Hopefully, efforts to bring broadband to low-income families will accelerate.
Carl Weinschenk covers telecom for IT Business Edge. He writes about wireless technology, disaster recovery/business continuity, cellular services, the Internet of Things, machine-to-machine communications and other emerging technologies and platforms. He also covers net neutrality and related regulatory issues. Weinschenk has written about the phone companies, cable operators and related companies for decades and is senior editor of Broadband Technology Report. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and via twitter at @DailyMusicBrk.