Broadband Internet Adoption Rates Rise in U.S. Metro Areas

  • Brookings Institution
WASHINGTON — Households increasingly need broadband Internet to access economic opportunity, yet 25 percent of American households did not have a broadband subscription in 2014, according to a new report by the Metropolitan Policy Program at the Brookings Institution. Broadband is quickly becoming the defining infrastructure of the 21st century, making widespread broadband adoption a national imperative.

The report, “Broadband Adoption Rates and Gaps in U.S. Metropolitan Areas,” by Brookings Fellow Adie Tomer and Brookings Senior Policy/Research Assistant Joseph Kane, provides broadband adoption rates for 238 U.S. metropolitan areas. Though nationally 75.1 percent of households have a broadband subscription, there is significant variation at the local level. For example, 88.2 percent of households in San Jose, Calif., have broadband Internet, but in Laredo, Texas, that share is just 56.2 percent.

“This analysis reveals important information about where America falls short in getting people online,” said Tomer. “But it also goes a step further to explain why we are seeing significant gaps in broadband adoption.”

Understanding Differences between Metro Areas
To find out what causes such stark differences between metropolitan areas, Tomer and Kane use 2013 and 2014 American Community Survey data and a combination of other Census, Bureau of Labor Statistics, and Internet speed data to determine what factors have the greatest impact on broadband adoption.

The model finds that multiple factors, including higher levels of income, educational attainment and telecommuting, have positive and significant effects on broadband adoption rates. It also finds that some traditional indicators — like large elderly populations — do not register significant effects.

table 1

Broadband adoption rates are increasing nationally, with approximately 2.6 million more households subscribing to broadband Internet in 2014 than in 2013. However, there is much to be done by metropolitan, state, and federal leaders to achieve more equal adoption of broadband in neighborhoods across the country. “The growing broadband network confirms the country’s transition to a digital economy, but completing that transition will be impossible until broadband adoption looks as ubiquitous as water and electricity infrastructure,” said Joseph Kane.

The report offers recommendations to help lessen the broadband adoption gap, which include using targeted income assistance programs, expanding digital skills curricula and training, and encouraging telecommuting for private and public sector employees. But just as importantly, it highlights how much more must be learned before all Americans have access to a high-speed Internet connection.


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