Mark Goldberg

Trying to know what we don’t know

Boston College law professor Daniel Lyons recently wrote, “For analysts of digital policy issues, few datasets are more useful and trusted than the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life project, which regularly surveys Americans about internet-related topics.”

Last week, Pew released the results from a survey of nearly 5000 American adults, conducted over the week of April 7 to 12. The survey found that roughly half (53%) say the internet has been essential for them personally during the pandemic and another 34% described it as “important, but not essential.”

Professor Lyons dug into the data and said:

More interesting to me is the corollary finding: Even during a nationwide quarantine keeping most people at home except for essential services, 13 percent of Americans stated that internet access is “not too important” or “not at all important.” And that percentage is slightly greater among disadvantaged populations: 15 percent of lower-income Americans surveyed, and a whopping 20 percent of those with a high-school-level education or less, rated internet access as unimportant during the pandemic.

I have written before that we need to do more research in Canada to understand the factors that are keeping Canadians off-line. “As Canada invests in its Innovation Agenda, there is a gap in understanding why nearly 1 in 6 Canadian households has no broadband connection. There is an opportunity for better understanding to emerge from a Canadian broadband research plan.”

Since I wrote that in 2016, we have improved to 1 in 8 (88% of households as of the end of 2018), despite 5 Mbps service or better being available to 98% of Canadian households. Why?

A national broadband strategy needs leadership to understand and deal with concerns and fears that may inhibit adoption. It will take more than technology to get everyone online.

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