It is tempting to think that, as technology improves and access because less expensive, the use of fast internet access will become more widespread. Research, however, shows that this is not happening, and that broadband uptake has slowed dramatically.
John Horrigan, Director of Research with Pew Internet & American Life Project reports that currently 67% of Americans are online, but that only 53% of them have fast internet access. There was a 3% growth in the proportion of internet users with broadband access for past year, as compared to 20% growth during the previous year. Where several years ago heavy internet users were more prevalent amongst dial-up users, and thus easier to convince to switch to broadband, today dial-up users are more likely to be older, less educated and have lower incomes than previously. Horrigan predicts that it will take several years at least to get the next 10% of broadband users online.
On October, 2002 34% of adult internet users were moderately experienced dial-up internet users (online for 1 to 6 years). By May, 2005 the proportion was 23%. On October, 2002, 38% of online users were experienced (online for more than 6 years). By May, 2005 that group comprised 58% of users. New users (online for less than 1 year) were 6% of the online population in October, 2005 and only 4% on May, 2005.
For the first 6 months of 2005, the proportion of the adult population not accessing the internet has held steady at 32%.
Moderately experienced dial-up internet users are also becoming more apathetic about internet use. In 2002 dial-up users had at one time or other tried 38% of the online activity queried about. By 2005 that figure had fallen to 28%. Dial-up users are becoming less 'adventurous' with their internet use, and are thus less likely to be convinced to make the switch.
Americans, it seems, aren't matching places elsewhere with the proportion of broadband uptake. In Australia, for example, 67% of adult internet users have broadband access. In South Korea, with a similar proportion of the poulation online, 80% or more of the users have fast internet access.
There are several potentially serious implications which arise from this slowing of fast internet uptake. At a policy level there are economic benefits to rapid uptake of broadband. Dissemination of information and services online is considerably more economical, and policy makers are impatient to follow that path. E-government (both service delivery and the conducting of government business online) finacial transaction, health care and medical information, news distribution all benefit greatly from the widespread use of fast internet, as do many other facets of daily life. A slowing in uptake has a detrimental effect on the growth and efficiency of such activities.
Continued emphasis on e-service delivery, together with a continued slowing of broadband uptake, can lead to the widening of the social divide. Less access for the poor and elderly. Less access for the rural and isolated.
The full report can be read at Pew/Internet