A new study suggests that attitude, rather than availability, might be the key reason more Americans don’t have high-speed internet access.

The findings from the Pew Internet & American Life Project challenge the argument that broadband providers need to more aggressively roll out supply to meet demand.

Only 14 percent of dial-up users say they’re stuck with the older, slower connectivity method because they can’t get broadband service in their neighborhoods, Pew reported July 2.

Thirty-five percent say they’re still on dial-up because broadband prices are too high, while another 19 percent say nothing would persuade them to upgrade. The remainder have other reasons or do not know.

"That suggests that solving the supply problem where there are availability gaps is only going to go so far," said John Horrigan, the study’s author. "It’s going to have to be a process of getting people more engaged with information technology and demonstrating to people that it’s worth it for them to make the investment of time and money."

Nonetheless, the Pew study does support concerns that rural Americans have more trouble getting faster internet connections, which bring greater opportunities to work from home or log onto online classes. Twenty-four percent of rural dial-up users say they would get broadband if it becomes available, compared with 11 percent for suburbanites and 3 percent for city dwellers.

Vinton Cerf, one of the internet’s key inventors and an advocate for the idea that the government should be more active in expanding broadband, suspects that many more dial-up users would be interested in going high-speed if they had a better idea of what they’re missing. He pointed out that broadband access is available from only one provider in many areas, keeping prices high and speeds low.

"Some residential users may not see a need for higher speeds because they don’t know about or don’t have ability to use high speeds," Cerf said. "My enthusiasm for video conferencing improved dramatically when all family members had MacBook Pros with built-in video cameras, for example."

Overall, the Pew survey found that 55 percent of American adults now have broadband access at home, up from 47 percent a year earlier and 42 percent in March 2007. By contrast, only 10 percent of Americans now have dial-up access.

That leaves about a third of American adults (including many parents of school-age children) without any home connectivity at all.

Despite the increase in overall broadband adoption, growth has been flat among blacks and low-income Americans.

Of the Americans with no internet access at all, about a third say they have no interest in logging on, even at dial-up speeds. Nearly 20 percent of non-users had access in the past but dropped it. Older and lower-income Americans are most likely to be offline.

Pew’s telephone study of 2,251 U.S. adults, including 1,553 internet users, was conducted April 8 to May 11 and has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 2 percentage points. The error margins for subgroups are higher–plus or minus 7 percentage points for the dial-up sample, for example.

Links:

Pew Internet & American Life Project

"Home Broadband 2008" study