Skip to main content

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.


Popular posts from this blog

Cargo Cult System Administration

Cargo Cult: …imitate the superficial exterior of a process or system without having any understanding of the underlying substance --Wikipedia During and after WWII, some native south pacific islanders erroneously associated the presence of war related technology with the delivery of highly desirable cargo. When the war ended and the cargo stopped showing up, they built crude facsimiles of runways, control towers, and airplanes in the belief that the presence of war technology caused the delivery of desirable cargo. From our point of view, it looks pretty amusing to see people build fake airplanes, runways and control towers  and wait for cargo to fall from the sky.
The question is, how amusing are we?We have cargo cult science[1], cargo cult management[2], cargo cult programming[3], how about cargo cult system management?Here’s some common system administration failures that might be ‘cargo cult’:
Failing to understand the difference between necessary and sufficient. A daily backup …

Ad-Hoc Versus Structured System Management

Structured system management is a concept that covers the fundamentals of building, securing, deploying, monitoring, logging, alerting, and documenting networks, servers and applications. Structured system management implies that you have those fundamentals in place, you execute them consistently, and you know all cases where you are inconsistent. The converse of structured system management is what I call ad hoc system management, where every system has it own plan, undocumented and inconsistent, and you don't know how inconsistent they are, because you've never looked.

In previous posts (here and here) I implied that structured system management was an integral part of improving system availability. Having inherited several platforms that had, at best, ad hoc system management, and having moved the platforms to something resembling structured system management, I've concluded that implementing basic structure around system management will be the best and fastest path to…

The Cloud – Provider Failure Modes

In The Cloud - Outsourcing Moved up the Stack[1] I compared the outsourcing that we do routinely (wide area networks) with the outsourcing of the higher layers of the application stack (processor, memory, storage). Conceptually they are similar:In both cases you’ve entrusted your bits to someone else, you’ve shared physical and logical resources with others, you’ve disassociated physical devices (circuits or servers) from logical devices (virtual circuits, virtual severs), and in exchange for what is hopefully better, faster, cheaper service, you give up visibility, manageability and control to a provider. There are differences though. In the case of networking, your cloud provider is only entrusted with your bits for the time it takes for those bits to cross the providers network, and the loss of a few bits is not catastrophic. For providers of higher layer services, the bits are entrusted to the provider for the life of the bits, and the loss of a few bits is a major problem. These …