Report: Broadband Adoption in Low-Income Communities

As part of the preparation for the National Broadband Plan the Social Science Research Council was asked by the FCC to prepare a report – Broadband Adoption in Low-Income Communities which was issued in March 2010.


(1) Broadband access is increasingly a prerequisite of social and economic inclusion, and low-income communities know it. Demand for broadband in these communities is consequently growing, even as the economic crisis undermines family and community resources to support Internet use.

(2) Price is only one factor shaping the fragile equilibrium of home broadband adoption, and price pressures go beyond the obvious challenge of high monthly fees. Limited availability, poor quality of service, hardware costs, hidden fees, and billing transparency are major issues for low-income communities.

(3) Libraries and other intermediaries fill the gap between low home adoption and high community demand, and providing Internet access and related support is increasingly part of the core missions of these institutions. Even as home broadband becomes more prevalent, third spaces have a crucial role to play as safety nets for access, and as providers of training and task-based assistance for their communities. Often this helps users gain the skills that lead to confident, sustainable home broadband adoption.

Further notes:

  • Of those who have ever had broadband at home, 22% are now un-adopters, mainly due to financial concerns.
  • Bad service by ISPs was a constant factor in non-adoption.
  • Business increasingly benefits through training and job-seeking activity at community access centers, without bearing the cost.
  • Investments in Internet proficiency remain critically important in low-income communities
  • Investments in promoting or justifying Internet use to low-adoption communities, in contrast, would appear to be a waste of money.
  • There is a continuing need for efficient, resilient ways of accessing essential social services in person, via telephone, and via paper correspondence.
  • Social service providers need to re-evaluate eligibility criteria to include Internet access.
  • Expensive triple-play plans are an unaffordable luxury that can exacerbate poverty of access.

The report’s appendix includes an exhaustive directory of community access organizations across the nation.