Mobile Broadband Adoption and Its Role In the U.S. Digital Divide




Hodge, Ronald Anthony

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In the U.S., high-speed internet service, or broadband, is considered essential to expanded job training for the unemployed and under-employed, access to educational resources within schools, extension of medical services to rural areas (allowing broader reach for more specialized expertise), and the ability for small businesses to expand and reach national and international markets. A great deal of research has been devoted to the impact of fixed broadband on economic growth. Federal, state and local government have focused significant resources to subsidize and encourage industry to invest in building out broadband infrastructure to bridge the “digital divide” among rural and poor areas of the U.S. However, in recent years the emergence of mobile broadband, made possible through the introduction of the “smartphone” and high-speed digital (3G+) networks, has rapidly changed the way we live and work. This study explores the patterns or adoption for mobile broadband and its relationship with fixed broadband. With widespread mobile broadband adoption and availability of recent datasets, this study uniquely explores the implications and potential role in closing the digital divide. The key findings of this research are that the traditional determinants of adoption hold true for both fixed and mobile broadband and that mobile is used as a substitute for fixed broadband in rural, low-income communities. Further, the analysis showed that households with children have a positive impact on mobile adoption. Consistent with technology adoption theory on consumer intrinsic behavior and beliefs, access at work, school or travel is a strong determinant of both fixed and mobile adoption. Finally, this study could not definitively find support for the impact of private and security concerns on fixed or mobile broadband. As fixed broadband penetration slows, mobile broadband’s accelerated adoption could help to bridge the divide where fixed struggles to serve. Key differences in both extrinsic factors (coverage, form/function, ease of use, and mobility) and intrinsic factors (social norms and values) may create a differentiated role for mobile broadband going forward. Its rapid adoption and the future of greater functionality and higher capacity networks promise a still greater functional role in our lives.



Public policy, Broadband, Digital Divide, Mobile, Technology Adoption