Monday, November 10, 2014

Futurology: U.S. Failed With Broadband

A 2004 prediction guessed the U.S. would have near universal high-speed connections. It hasn't happened.

Internet speeds are slow and broadband still hasn't reached all Americans.
By Lindsey CookNov. 6, 2014 | 9:58 a.m. EST+ U.S. News and World Report

This article is part of a series that examines predictions about the future. So far, we've looked at predictions for 2025 and explored 2004 predictions about online voting, cybersecurity, health care and politics. If you want to discuss this series with us and potentially be included in a future article, join the U.S. News Futurology Facebook group.

Tonight, as you wait for the latest episode of Scandal to buffer, think about the following: the Internet speeds in the United States suck. Really, they do. We pay more; we get less.

Way back in 2004 when your memories of dial-up connections and waiting for music to download from Napster were fresh, the Pew Internet Project asked experts for their predictions of the future of the Internet. The group wanted to know what to expect by 2014. More than half agreed that 90 percent of Americans would have high-speed Internet connections in their homes that were "dramatically faster" than previous speeds.

Too bad they were wrong.

Internet connections:
2004 prediction: By 2014, 90 percent of all Americans will go online from home via high-speed networks that are dramatically faster than today’s high-speed networks.

At the time, 34 percent of adults in the United States had a broadband connection either at work or at home, so the prediction was quite ambitious. In the imagined world of 2014, almost all Americans have access to high-speed Internet, allowing people to connect with new social networks, educational opportunities and health resources. One expert went even further, writing: “Yes, but 90 percent isn't good enough. We must do away with the digital divide entirely if we are to become a truly advanced culture.”

It's a sentiment that was also expressed frequently in the report detailing predictions about what would be possible by 2025 with even faster Internet speeds, with one expert writing: “We should not expect these bandwidth increases to be evenly distributed, and many who cannot afford access to increased bandwidth will be left with low-bandwidth options. We may see a new class divergence between those able to access immersive media, online telepathy, human consciousness uploads and remote computing while the poor will be left with the low-bandwidth experiences we typically use today.”

Technology isn't as ubiquitous in the United States as many people think it is. For all the Americans that do live in cities (at the same time living on the Internet and on social media), there are plenty of Americans living in rural areas that don't have computers and don't have Internet connections. Many more can't afford the Internet. While the prediction talked specifically about 90 percent of Americans having high-speed connections, that many Americans don't even have Internet period. 

View county-by-county data.

In 2011, 28 percent of Americans reported no Internet access at home, according to a report by theU.S. Census Bureau. Although the percentage of Americans with Internet and computers in their homes has increased since 2004, it hasn't increased to 90 percent. 

Internet access has a racial component as well. Blacks and Hispanics are less likely to have household Internet than whites or Asians are. 

Older Americans are also less likely to have Internet connections than younger Americans, according to Pew.

For most of the Americans without Internet, it isn't an issue of ability to connect because the area is too remote. They don't want it or can't afford it. Only 2 percent can't have Internet, but recent reports show 20 percent of Americans don't have access.

Cost is prohibitive for many. When compared to other developed parts of the world, the U.S. pays more and gets less, according to research from the Open Technology Institute.

Hong Kong, South Korea and Tokyo lead the world in Internet speeds. The United States ranks No. 27 in global Internet speeds, according to Net Index. You can also use their maps to compare global speeds more in-depth.

Lindsey Cook is a data reporter for U.S. News & World Report. You can follow her on Twitter or reach her at

No comments:

Post a Comment