There are two ways to look at the latest Field Poll/California Emerging Technology Fund survey of household Internet penetration: the number of homes with someone online, at one level or another, jumped five points from 79% in 2015 to 84% in 2016, or broadband uptake has stalled in the Golden State for six years.
The case for the former is the topline gloss of the survey which has total broadband penetration at 84%, if you define broadband penetration as at least one person in the house with a smart phone in his or her pocket. That’s the number that went up 5% in one year.
If you look at fixed broadband service, though, it’s a different and depressing picture. In 2010, 70% of homes in California had a broadband subscription – via wireline or fixed wireless service – that was available, in theory, to everyone in the house, all the time. Six years later, in 2016, that number was… wait for it… 70%.
That means that 16% of Californian homes have no Internet access at all, and 14% are second class cyber-citizens, as the Field Poll press release makes clear…
The difference between those who have broadband Internet access through a home computing device and those who don’t is fostering what some are calling an “under-connected” class of Internet users. And, these users largely come from the same population subgroups as those with historically lower levels of residential Internet access. For example, not only are low-income Californians less likely than high-income earners to have Internet access at home (68% vs. 97%), the disparities grow wider when comparing how residents with access are connecting to the Internet. Just 43% of Californians with incomes of less than $22,000 can access the Internet at home through a computing device, compared to 94% among those with incomes of $100,000 or more.
Similarly, a smaller proportion of the state’s Spanish-speaking Latinos (69%) than others have access to broadband Internet at home, and just 39% connect to the Internet through a home computing device.
Mobile broadband is as much an essential 21st century service as true home or business Internet access. But it’s not the same thing – people need both, to reap the full benefits of the digital age.
There’s a lot of work yet to do.