Pew Research Center’s Internet and American Life Project released a report last week documenting a four percentage point rise for adults reporting that they had broadband access at home. According to Pew in May 2013, 70% of American adults reported having access to broadband at home. That’s up from 66% of American adults in April 2012.
There is still a racial divide between whites and blacks when it comes to broadband adoption at home. Approximately 74% of white American adults have broadband access at home while 64% of black American adults claim broadband access at home. The percentage of Hispanic adults with at home broadband access is approximately 53%.
Pew did raise an interesting issue by comparing smartphones to broadband. According to the report, there is no consensus whether 3G or 4G smartphones qualify as broadband speed and Pew questions whether the distinct differences in the quality of utility between smartphones and broadband should be ignored when determining whether to equate the speeds of the two. Pew offers the argument that it would be “challenging” to update an resume, view educational material, or even file taxes on a smartphone.
While I agree that updating a resume and transmitting it from a smartphone would be tedious and exacting, there are a couple arguments for equating 3G and 4G smartphones with broadband.
First, broadband has to be assessed within a national commercial framework. Section 1301(2) of the Communications Act makes it clear that deployment and adoption of broadband is in the nation’s business and job growth interest. Specifically:
“(2) Continued progress in the deployment and adoption of broadband technology is vital
to ensuring that our Nation remains competitive and continues to create business and job growth.”
Americans use their smartphones for business and commercial purposes. An investment banker discussing a court opinion via a smartphone with a legal analyst to whom she has paid a consulting fee is a commercial transaction. Ordering a pizza via a smartphone or placing an order via your smartphone for future shipment to your place of business are also commercial acts.
Content creation , albeit a high-quality activity that cannot be performed with ease over a smartphone, is not the only quality business activity that smartphones can be used for. Content creation should not be the sole or primary commercial or business activity that defines whether smartphones qualify as broadband.
Second, there is the issue of speed. According to a review by ZDNet, While average wired broadband speeds delivered by fiber average around 21 Mbps, average 4G speed averages 9.5 Mbps, way in excess of the Federal Communications Commission’s 4 Mbps threshold for defining broadband.
Maybe 3G, with average speeds just under 4 Mbps, might not make the broadband cutoff. Running video on 3G devices, where video requires at least 4 Mbps speed for quality viewing, is not satisfying in a world where an increasing amount of video content is being viewed (Miley Cyrus notwithstanding), but Pew should include possession of 4G smartphones in the home when determining the percentage of American adults that have access to broadband at home.