Building a broadband research agenda

Last month, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) and the National Science Foundation (NSF) requested public comments to “inform the development of a National Broadband Research Agenda” for the United States [Formal Notice in Federal Register].

This Agenda will reflect the most significant opportunities for data collection, analysis, and research to keep pace with, and take advantage of, the massive digital changes that permeate our economy and society.

In its comments, the US Telecom Association (USTelecom) observed “33 million households (27 percent of all U.S. households) did not use the internet at
home and 26 million households—one-fifth of all households—were offline entirely, lacking a single member who used the internet from any location in 2015.”

USTelecom says “Understanding the factors that contribute to the broadband adoption gap is the key to helping close the digital divide.”

In particular, USTelecom suggests the National Broadband Research Agenda explore which types of programs to increase broadband adoption have been successful and why, as well as how such programs can be evaluated to determine effectiveness? In addition, USTelecom says further research is needed to explore methodologies used to identify non-adopters.

USTelecom asks NTIA to examine the types of initiatives that might help address the relevancy issue for those households that claim no interest or no need for internet connectivity. It also suggests that research is required to explore the role government can or should play in supporting effective broadband adoption programs?

Canada has similar needs for serious research into why people don’t subscribe to broadband. Billions of tax dollars have been spent (and hundreds of millions more are planned to be spent) to subsidize rural broadband, with virtually no government attention to low adoption among low income households. To what extent is there a need for enhanced digital literacy and is there a role for government in that effort?

The comments from all of the parties can be found on the NTIA website.

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.

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