Pew's Home Broadband 2021 Survey
What it says about broadband adoption and the remaining digital divide
Pew released their latest “Mobile Technology and Home Broadband 2021” survey, which is one of the authoritative reports on broadband adoption. It can be a little dense, so I want to point out a couple important numbers.
Broadband adoption, the percentage of respondents who subscribe to "higher-speed broadband service such as DSL, cable, or fiber optic service”, is at 77%, an increase of four points from 73% in 2019. For comparison, the 2019 Census ACS 1-year estimates for the equivalent metric was 71%. So far so good.
What will probably get more attention is the breakdowns of the non-adopters of broadband. The sample size for this subgroup was 285 respondents, with a margin of sampling error of 6.7 percentage points.
From all the numbers, this chart presents the clearest picture. It shows the most important reason why a respondent hasn’t adopted broadband. The largest group is the 27% who haven’t adopted broadband because the cost of the service or devices is too high. Behind that is “smartphone does everything I need” and “other options for internet access outside of home” with 19% and 9% respectively.
In my view, these responses are virtually indistinguishable from “cost is too high”. They aren’t saying they don’t want broadband in the home. They’re saying they would not derive enough utility from it to justify the cost given other options. It is likely that these respondents would be broadband subscribers at a lower price, or if they were more able to derive benefits from the service.
Here’s an example: OLED TVs are incredible. It’s like looking through a window. However, they cost $2,000 and up. I’m not an adopter of OLED TVs because my current TV does everything I need. I would be an OLED TV adopter if the price was lower.
The fourth category in the above chart is “Service insufficient or not available". These are not non-adopters by choice. They can’t adopt broadband. So the top 3 cost or cost-benefit reasons make up at least 71% of the people who could adopt broadband but chose not to.
There’s a question for non-adopters of “Would you like to have high-speed internet at home, or is that not something you're interested in?” and perplexingly 71% of respondents say that’s not something they’re interested in. Here’s how that happens: at the beginning of the survey they ask if you have a broadband subscription. If you don’t, they ask if that’s something you’re interested in. At this point they’re setting a baseline for the coming battery of questions.
Respondents answer the battery of questions with the contributing factors for why they don’t subscribe to broadband, and the most important reason for their non-adoption, which generates the chart above. By this point, 27% of respondents cite “some other reason” not listed in the battery as a contributing factor of their non-adoption, “including 11% who say it is because they are not interested, do not care for it or do not need it.” So the percentage of people for whom “not interested, do not care for it or do not need it” is the most important reason for non-adoption is actually just below 11%, though Pew doesn’t give us this exact number.