High-speed Internet for all? Not so, says survey

A majority of Americans say that affordable, high-speed Internet for all is something the federal government shouldn't devote much effort to, despite the administration's plans for just that.

The findings are from the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project, which periodically looks at the state of home broadband in the United States. Two-third of Americans now have a high-speed Internet connection at home, Pew said, up from 63 percent last year.

"By a 53 percent to 41 percent margin, Americans say they do not believe that the spread of affordable broadband should be a major government priority," Pew said in its report. And, "contrary to what some might suspect, non-Internet users are less likely than current users to say the government should place a high priority on the spread of high-speed connections."

"Non-Internet users"? You mean there are some of those? Yes, Pew said; 21 percent of American adults do not use the Internet, "are not tied in any way to online life and express little interest in going online."

Those folks do not find anything online "relevant to their lives," the study said. "Just one in 10 non-users say would like to start using the Internet in the future."

Some are still "not comfortable using computers or the Internet on their own," Pew said. "Six in 10 non-users would need assistance getting online. Just one in five know enough about computers and technology to start using the Internet on their own."

The Obama administration has proposed a national broadband plan that would expand high-speed Internet access around the country in areas where it is needed, concerned that the United States could be falling behind other nations that have high-speed Internet at lower prices.

Last month, Finland became the first country in the world where every citizen is entitled to high-speed Internet connection. 

But the Pew survey said that 26 percent of Americans "say that expansion of affordable broadband access should not be attempted by government" and 27 percent say it's "not too important" a priority.

Thirty percent believe it is an important priority, and only 11 percent thought it should be a top priority.

"As broadband technologies have been adopted in the majority of American homes, a debate has arisen about the role of government in stepping in to ensure availability to high-speed Internet access for all Americans," said Aaron Smith, Pew senior research specialist and author of the Pew report.

"It could be that the recession is causing Americans to prioritize other issues, or it could be general anti-government wariness," he said. "It could also stem from the fact that not many non-(Internet) users are anxious to see government promoting technologies that they view as difficult to use and offering uncertain benefits.”

Pew surveyed 2,252 adults between April 29 and May 30. The margin of error is 2 percentage points for the total sample.