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Growth in Broadband Slows Dramatically

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The number of Americans with broadband Internet access rose 40 percent between 2005 and 2006, but only 12 percent between 2006 and 2007—although certain segments of the population did much better than that.

The figures, gathered by the Pew Internet & American Life Project in Washington, DC, showed that 47 percent of American adults had high-speed Internet access at the start of 2007, up from 42 percent in 2006, and 30 percent in 2005.

Why has growth slowed?

“Once you get to about the 50 percent level in any adoption curve it gets harder and harder to sustain a high growth rate,” John Horrigan, associate director for the project, told LiveScience.

Horrigan said about 70 percent of Americans now have some kind of Internet access from home, counting dial-up users, which is nearly equal to the three-fourths of Americans with cell phones. “It seems fair to say that the percentage of broadband Internet users will also reach that level, but we can’t say when,” he added.

Digital divides

If broadband is headed to 75 percent saturation, various parts of the population are getting there at varying speeds—and some of them have already arrived. Among those with an annual income of more than $75,000, the rate of broadband penetration is already 76 percent. The rate falls off with each lower income bracket until the rate is 30 percent for those making less than $30,000.

Those with more than four years of college used home broadband at a rate of 70 percent, while the rate was only 21 percent for those who had not graduated from high school. The rate was 63 percent for those aged 18 to 29, falling with each higher age bracket until the rate was only 15 percent for those over 65.

In the racial divide, the rate for whites was 48 percent, compared to 40 percent for blacks. The Pew report stated that main factor distinguishing black from white usage was that blacks are somewhat less likely to use the Internet: 73 percent of whites reported using it at least occasionally from any location (home, office, or other settings) compared to 62 percent for blacks. But counting only those blacks who do use the Internet from home, the rate of broadband penetration was actually higher for Blacks: 70 percent versus 69 percent.

The racial divide was overshadowed by the city-country divide, as the rate of broadband use was 52 percent for urban dwellers but only 31 percent for rural residents.

Surprising growth

But the raw figures hide some surprising history.

The group that showed the highest growth rate of broadband adoption last year was the under-$30,000 income segment, where the growth rate was 43 percent. It was also the only group that exceeded the growth rate it achieved between 2005 and 2006, when its use grew by 40 percent.

The growth rate among blacks was 29 percent, and continued a rapid rise that has been going on since 2005, when only 14 percent of the respondents had broadband Internet access in the home, rising to 31 percent in 2006, and to 40 percent in 2007. Current penetrate among blacks is about what it was among whites last year, the report noted.

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