The Federal Communications Commission recently released its survey on the status of Internet service as of June 30, 2009. Among its findings were the levels of consumer subscribership based on income, population density, and college education. The findings further substantiated the long held observation that there is a gap in subscribership among individuals of varying income, residency, and educational levels.
The FCC used household data from 3,232 counties in the United States. Specifically, the FCC studied subscribership to Internet access services with speeds of at least 200 kbps in one direction.
Regarding the impact of income on Internet subscribership, the FCC found that the ratio of households with Internet access to total households in the lowest ten percent of median income was 0.29. On the other hand, the ratio of subscribing households to total households in the highest ten percent of median income was 0.79.
The disparity was not as high when population density was considered but it was apparently significant. The FCC found that the ratio of subscribing households to total households in areas with the lowest population density was 0.46, while the ratio of subscribing households to total households in the areas of highest population density was 0.67.
Education also plays a major factor. Counties with the highest shares of college graduates saw a ratio of subscribing household to total households of 0.72, while counties with the lowest shares of college graduates saw the ratio of subscribing households to total households at approximately 0.39.
The FCC, led by Chairman Julius Genachowski, is attempting to address the disparity in subscribership with a national broadband plan. The plan, which has already been submitted to Congress, focuses on affordability by reforming the universal service fund. The fund has traditionally subsidized the costs of providing local telephone service, particularly in rural areas.
The FCC would like to revamp the fund by indexing funding for schools and libraries to the rate of inflation. The FCC would also like to provide wireless broadband service in rural areas via a mobility fund, as well as improve the use of the rural health care program, which is designed to provide advanced services to medical facilities serving rural areas.
With a national broadband plan not yet approved by Congress and the make-up of the House of Representatives facing uncertainty due to the upcoming mid-term elections, how effective the FCC’s efforts will be is unknown.