The Pew Broadband Report and the Digital Divide

The digital divide appears to be more complicated than we thought. From the 2008 Pew Home Broadband Report it looks like only a fraction of non-Internet users are actually held back by the availability of broadband. A whole bunch of non-users are simply not interested, and another large group  doesn't have the money.  The plethora of task forces that meet to talk endlessly about the digital divide need to think about cost and interest, not just availability.

Among people who do not use the Internet (27% of adult Americans)
  • 43% of non-internet users are over the age of 65 or, put differently, 65% of senior citizens do not use the internet.
  • 43% of non-internet users have household incomes under $30,000 per year.
When asked why they don’t use the internet:
  • 33% of non-users say they are not interested.
  • 12% say they don’t have access.
  • 9% say it is too difficult or frustrating.
  • 7% say it is too expensive.
  • 7% say it is a waste of time.
So we have an age problem, which will eventually will resolve itself (Old people tend to go away eventually),  an income problem, and a simple lack of interest.  A large number of people, 33% + 7% of those who are not connected simply don't want to be connected. Apparently we have not created a compelling reason to convince the un-interested people that the Internet has value. A small number of Internet users are still using dial up. And among dial-up users:
Among the 10% of Americans (or 15% of home internet users) with dial-up at home:
  • 35% of dial-up users say that the price of broadband service would have to fall.
  • 19% of dial-up users said nothing would convince them to get broadband.
  • 10% of dial-up users – and 15% of dial-up users in rural America – say that broadband service would have to become available where they.
So the issue of converting dial up users to broadband is not simply that broadband isn't available (10%). The largest segment of the dial up population is waiting for the price to drop. The second largest segment isn't going to get broadband no matter what. This is not an availability issue, it is a cost issue and an I don't care issue.

In any case, a number of potential Internet users are still using dial-up, not broadband. If you take dial up users and lump them in with mobile and PDA users, you have a class of people that have Internet access, but the access is restricted in some way, either by bandwidth or device capability. Call them 'low capability users'. Low bandwidth dial up users are shrinking, but low capability device users are growing (mobile phone, PDA, and iPhone users). If you develop applications, you need to keep the low capability users on the radar. They are not going to go away.

The BBC figured this out. I can access the majority of their content with low bandwidth, low capability GPRS or EDGE devices, with high bandwidth devices, and with everything in between. They get it.

The bottom line is that a segment of your users are, and for the foreseeable future will be using low capability devices, either dial-up, mobile, PDA or iPhones. If those users are not able to use an application, they are excluded not by the device or Internet access technology that they choose to use, but rather by the application or site design that excludes those users.