Study: US broadband access up overall, but down among the poor

When it comes to broadband Internet access in America, the gap between the "haves" and "have-nots" is widening, suggests a Pew Research report released on Wednesday called "Home Broadband Adoption 2008."

On the whole, about 55% of all Americans today have a high-speed Internet connection, up from only 47% in 2007, according to results released this week by the Pew Internet & American Life Project.

This growth rate of 17% represents an overall rise in comparison to the 12% growth rate demonstrated in the 2007 edition of the study.

In addition, three groups within the total US population showed especially strong increases in broadband adoption this year: rural Americans (up 23% since 2007); lower-middle income Americans, with household incomes between $20,000 and $40,000 (up 24%); and older Americans, aged 50 and over (up 25%).

On the other hand, among African Americans, broadband access rose only slightly, from 40% to 43%.

Moreover, in households with annual incomes below $20,000, access actually fell over the year, dropping from 28% to 25%.

Meanwhile, pricing for broadband access looks likely to have fallen from 2007 to 2008, as well. The authors of the study report a four percent decline in average broadband prices over the past two-and-a-half years or so, from $36 per month in December 2005 to $34.50 per month in April 2008.

Still, dial-up users -- who now comprise only 10% of Americans who go online -- gave price as the main reason for not stepping up to broadband. A total of 35% of those broadband users responded that "The price has to come down/be more affordable/cheaper." Only 10% said, "It would have to become available where I live." But 19% replied, "Nothing will convince me to get broadband."

Maybe some of those dial-up users will be forced into switching to broadband, anyway, or maybe not. As previously reported in BetaNews, Time Warner has pointed to plans to spin off AOL's dial-up accounts.

Yet after bailing out of the municipal Wi-Fi business, Earthlink recently cited dial-up access as an attractive alternative business model for that company to consider.

How does broadband access in the US rank in comparison to access in other countries? The jury is still out on that question, since various studies are coming up with conflicting findings.

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