A survey last year found that 35 percent of Americans do not use broadband at home.

The U.S. still faces a significant gap in residential broadband use that breaks down along incomes, education levels, and other socio-economic factors, even as subscriptions among American households overall grew sevenfold between 2001 and 2009.

What’s more, even when controlling for key socio-economic characteristics, the U.S. continues to confront a racial gap in residential broadband use, with non-Hispanic white Americans and Asian-Americans more likely to go online using a high-speed connection than African-Americans and Hispanics.

Those are some of the key conclusions of a new analysis of Census data being released Nov. 8 by the Commerce Department. It found that the percentage of households that connect to the internet using broadband grew to 63.5 percent in 2009 from 9.2 percent in 2001, reflecting increases across nearly all demographics.

The broadband access report—prepared by the Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) and the Economics and Statistics Administration—is based on a Census survey of about 54,000 households conducted in October 2009.

The report provides some of the deepest analysis yet of trends in broadband use within the United States. And it’s likely to help guide Congress and the Federal Communications Commission as they develop policies to ensure that all Americans have access to affordable high-speed internet service.

The analysis, said Lawrence Strickling, head of the NTIA, shows that “there is no single solution” to make this happen.

Among the major findings:

• 94.1 percent of households with income exceeding $100,000 subscribed to broadband in 2009, compared with 35.8 percent of households with income of less than $25,000.

• 84.5 percent of households with at least one college degree subscribed to broadband last year, compared with 28.8 percent of households without a high school degree.

• 77.3 percent of Asian-American households and 68 percent of non-Hispanic white households subscribed to broadband last year, compared with 49.4 percent of African-American households and 47.9 percent of Hispanic households.

• 65.9 percent of urban households subscribed to broadband in 2009, compared with 51 percent of rural households.

Closing such gaps is a top priority for the FCC, which released a sweeping national broadband plan filled with policy proposals—including many education-related proposals—in March. The agency’s top recommendations include tapping the federal program that subsidizes telephone service for poor and rural Americans to pay for broadband, and unleashing more airwaves for wireless connections.


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