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Where the Internet pipes run dry

wireless modemAn article published last week by the Brookings Institution discussed the availability of wireline broadband in US homes. While it should be no surprise to people who track media in all homes, not just online ones, the report brings forward estimates that seven percent of Americans do not have any access to landline broadband (25+ MBps). An interesting flip side is that only 18 percent of Americans live in communities with both high levels of wireline broadband access and high (80+ %) subscription rates to such service.

Now, a few caveats need to be applied to these data. First, they are based on government-issued data from the FCC and the ACS, which are notorious for lagging the marketplace. Second, the findings completely discount people who use only mobile data services for Internet access – which I have found in past research to be a notable share of low-income and minority homes.

As one might expect, many of these underserved areas are rural counties, which are geographically large, low population density, and low affluence. This makes the cost to roll out wireline internet to each home financially difficult without government subsidy (which seems to be the agenda of the Brookings article). And, one could also argue that the rollout of 5G wireless data service in the near future will obviate the need for wireline internet altogether.

However, regardless of any limitations on the data, or what the future holds for 5G, the article and its report are still helpful to remind those of us in the “media bubble” that the streaming media revolution isn’t necessarily reaching everyone. As streaming to TV sets increases each year, there are still homes where it can’t happen because of lack of access, if not a lack of desire.

David Tice is the principal of TiceVision LLC, a media research consultancy.
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