July 26, 2004 3:30 AM PDT

Poll shows tough road for broadband

Presidential campaign proposals to build a national broadband network may be difficult to sell to the American public, according to a survey conducted jointly by CNET News.com and Harris Interactive.

The nationwide poll, which surveyed more than 1,000 people with Internet access, found that 72 percent of respondents support government efforts to make high-speed Internet access universally available. But backing for the activist policy has stalled on the question of who pays--and how much.

"People are in favor of many things, until you put price tags on them," said Blair Levin, a telecommunications analyst at financial firm Legg News.com-Harris Interactive Poll chart Mason Wood Walker. "As most folks in Washington want to have their cake and eat it, too, why should consumers thinking about broadband be any different?"

President Bush earlier this year called for universal broadband connections throughout the United States by 2007 and ordered federal agencies to accelerate the process of granting broadband providers access to federal land. He has also strongly advocated the extension of a ban on Internet access taxes.

Democratic challenger John Kerry also backs the idea of universal broadband access, likening it to the government's program to provide electricity to rural areas in the 1930s. Kerry proposes a 20 percent tax credit for companies investing in "next generation" broadband networks and, like Bush, supports the use of more wireless spectrum for the high-speed technology.

The federal government has historically helped ensure that telephone access is available to all Americans, including rural and low-income areas, where service might not otherwise be available. Most respondents to the News.com-Harris Interactive Poll agreed that it was important or extremely important for all Americans to have Internet access, whether by broadband or dial-up connection.

At the same time, by a margin of 56 percent to 44 percent, they opposed any government plan to directly subsidize the extension of broadband access to rural areas or for low-income citizens. Similarly, nearly 70 percent was against paying higher access fees to fund the expansion of broadband to those areas.

Government moves
Some industry and political veterans believe that Americans are skeptical of any government initiatives, especially given its track record on telecom regulation. Others are concerned that legislators will back one form of broadband technology over another, disrupting free-market competition.

"The government is more likely to be wrong than to be right," said Rick White, the CEO of industry group TechNet and a former congressman who helped draft the landmark Telecommunications Act of 1996. "At the end of the day, those decisions get made on political, not economic, grounds."

News.com-Harris Interactive Poll chart

Even Michael Powell, chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, has acknowledged the failings of government regulation in today's telecommunications industry. "Right now, we're in a terrible position where a company's regulatory treatment is more a matter of from whence they came rather than what they're really doing now," he said during a visit to Silicon Valley this month.

Levin, FCC chief of staff during the Clinton Administration, said a Bush or Kerry administration should consider other factors that could make broadband policy more financially acceptable to voters, such as tying it to new jobs.

"If you want government to stimulate universal, big broadband so that it will arrive sooner than the market might otherwise have it happen, then you need to make sure it reaches everywhere and that it creates jobs," he said. "You need a mechanism to pay for it that doesn't rise to the level of being onerous or politically problematic."


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Among the poll respondents who already have broadband connections, roughly 74 percent said a new $1 general government tax would not affect a decision to keep or subscribe to broadband. About 16 percent said it would be less likely to sign up for broadband service, while another 8 percent would be more likely to stay with or return to dial-up rather than shoulder the extra charge.

Party affiliations of respondents to the CNET News.com-Harris Interactive Poll were split along the political spectrum, with about 33 percent identifying itself as a Democrat and 34 percent as a Republican. The rest consisted of independents and fringe parties.

Other findings of note among adult broadband subscribers:

--61 percent of respondents said they were concerned about security and privacy issues when on a broadband connection.

--52 percent said the overall cost of the service is a more important factor in choosing among Internet access alternatives than the connection speed.

--63 percent spends the same amount of time watching television as it spent before getting a broadband connection, compared with 34 percent who spend fewer hours in front of the tube (or flat screen).

--63 percent is spending more time online now than when logged on to the Internet via a dial-up connection.

--65 percent has engaged in more uploading and downloading of work-related information since getting a broadband connection.

--6.5 percent of respondents have had a broadband connection for more than five years.

This poll was conducted online within the United States between June 22 and June 30 among a nationwide cross-section of 1,079 consumers with Internet access. The results carry a statistical precision of plus or minus 3 percentage points.

5 comments

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This poll Sucks
If your going to poll the masses why not poll the masses that don't have broadband. There's a lot more of us without any broadband or a sorry satellite connection. I would agree to pay a little more on my taxes to get this show on the road. If those people had to pay 69$ to 89$ a month for a piece of real crappy broadband like I do for my crappy satellite connection they would be willing to cough up a couple of extra bucks for taxes.
Posted by domcelyea (14 comments )
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This Poll is Certainly Unscientific
Sure, ask only the people who'd have to pay a buck more for the people who can't get the service if they think the people who can't get the service are worth the extra money. Heck, even I could predict that result!

Until the U.S. Government (likely the FCC) mandates universal service, and provides the funding, like they did with the Rural Electrification Administration in the 1930s, rural residents will always be deprived of service. Hell, our TELEPHONE service is miserable (so Pair-Gained out that most people get only a 14,400 b/s modem connection at best), and the physical wire plant is already 25 years overdue for replacement.

Urban telephone ratepayers subsidize rural telephone service (although not adequately, because the telcos get to decide what the rural level of acceptable service is). They should also contribute to subsidizing the delivery of rural broadband.

--Carol Anne
Posted by CAOgdin75 (14 comments )
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I Agree
Don't get me started on the phone companies. They are the biggest ripoff artists in history.
When I first moved to my rural address you couldn't call the nearest town which was three miles away without being charged long distance.
They are using 100 year old technology (analog). Oh cell phones are much worse. They have spent so much on cell phone technology that every house in the US could have fibre optic connections. All voice, streaming video, television, broadband etc. could be piped over that.
Posted by domcelyea (14 comments )
Link Flag
This story is laughable
This idea is disturbing and funny at the same time. There is nothing in the US Constitution that says that government should give anyone net access. The internet is like anything else; if I want it......I pay for it. There should NEVER be any question of government EVER involved.

The fact is (by choice of the people), dial-up is on its' way out and broadband is coming in. This is a good thing. I will pay for my access. I will not pay for someone else. If you want it, YOU pay for your own. Otherwise, I want Microsoft to give me a million dollar home, CrissCraft to give me a boat, and Chevrolet to give me a new truck ever other year. YOU ALL can pay for it, I'll take the lazy way out.......:)

I can't believe we are even discussing this! Paying for my own way is why I have a job.

The internet is a luxory........
Posted by Prndll (382 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Broadband expansion
The industry that will profit the most from this expansion should
foot the bill.
The people who are empowered by the expansion will create a
market where none exists.
Surely the marketers all over the net will pay to be in there
selling products not locally available.
Posted by robuba (2 comments )
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