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Pew Research: Americans Have Mixed Feelings on Broadband Adoption Policies

April 11, 2017
by Rajiv Leventhal
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Americans have mixed views on two policies designed to encourage broadband adoption, according to a new Pew Research Center survey.

The survey of more than 4,000 U.S. adults revealed that a substantial majority of the public (70 percent) believes local governments should be able to build their own broadband networks if existing services in the area are either too expensive or not good enough, while just 27 percent of U.S. adults said these so-called municipal broadband networks should not be allowed.

Currently, there are a number of state laws that prevent cities from building their own high-speed networks, and several U.S. senators recently introduced a bill that would ban these restrictions. Meanwhile, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) continues to address broadband infrastructure and access. For instance, the FCC recently announced the formation of a new federal advisory committee to explore ways to accelerate deployment of high-speed Internet access nationwide and to close the digital divide. Also last year, the Connecting Rural Americans to Care Act of 2016 was introduced, calling for the establishment of an interagency task force on rural health IT to coordinate delivery of financial and technical assistance to rural providers and provide leadership and recommendations on best practices to increase internet access in rural areas.

And, in February, the new FCC chairman Ajit Pai scaled back a broadband subsidy program for lower-income Americans. And more recently, President Donald Trump signed legislation that repeals a number of broadband privacy regulations.

In the spectrum of healthcare, rural health IT continues to be an issue. A data brief from the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT (ONC) last summer unsurprisingly revealed that small, rural and critical access hospitals are lagging behind larger urban and suburban hospitals with regard to interoperable data exchange and use of electronic health information. And patients in rural areas have often had trouble traveling long distances to get the care they need, thus putting more pressure on telehealth initiatives in these areas to work smoothly.

The Pew survey also found that fewer than half of respondents (44 percent) think the government should provide subsidies to help lower-income Americans pay for high-speed internet at home. A larger share (54 percent) said that high-speed home internet service is affordable enough that nearly every household should be able to buy service on its own.

What’s more, roughly nine-in-ten Americans described high-speed internet service as either essential (49 percent) or important but not essential (41 percent). Only about one-in-ten Americans said that high-speed internet access is either not too important (6 percent) or not important at all (3 percent).

Political affiliation also played a role in how Americans feel about broadband subsidies. Six-in-ten Democrats and independents who lean Democratic said the government should help lower-income Americans purchase high-speed internet service, but that figure fell to just 24 percent among Republicans and Republican-leaning independents. These partisan differences stand in stark contrast to attitudes toward municipal broadband networks, which are favored by a solid majority of both Democrats (74 percent) and Republicans (67 percent).

Meanwhile, there are only modest differences on this question between those who currently subscribe to broadband at home and those who do not: 42 percent of Americans who use broadband at home support government subsidies for lower-income adults to purchase broadband service, compared with 52 percent of those who do not currently subscribe to home high-speed service, according to the survey.

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