Analyzing Pew’s Data

Pew recently published some results of a survey on Internet use and came to the conclusion that most of us just don’t care about affordable broadband. Sadly, their conclusions in the summary are way off-base and very badly misread the data. The simple fact is that telecommunications policy still matters, even if they can skew the data otherwise.

The results couch all responses in terms of if affordable broadband should be a government priority. The actual question asked, however, asked only specifically about the federal government. There is no data at all about state or local efforts, but Pew chooses to refer to “governement involvement” as if all levels of government are included. This ignores that the feds have made a fine mess of telecom and a number of communities have been forced to take matters into their own hands. Had the question been asked of each of the three levels of government, it would have been a lot more revealing about who we trust to fix things.

Another problem is that the question itself asks two things at the same time, neither of which is necessarily related to the other. Asking about “expanding affordable high-speed Internet access to everyone in the country” is attempting to tie availability and affordability together into a single package. It would have been better to ask separately about pricing and availability to see if maybe Americans just aren’t comfortable with doing too much at once, or perhaps if making service available is more important than attacking the pricing issues.

There’s also missed conclusions based on the data they have collected. Opposition to federal involvement in expanding broadband is highest among non-users, but nobody bothers to guess as to why. The remaining data, however, makes that clear: they just don’t get what Internet access will do for them. It’s a huge education gap that, unsurprisingly, is concentrated among older adults. So, basically, most of the opposition comes from people who don’t use it, don’t know how to use it, and won’t learn how to use it. The question is why those who are basically being luddites should have any say in what has proven to be a vital technology. That, however, isn’t being asked either.

I’m kind of disappointed that Pew, a normally respectable outfit, would do such sloppy work. It’s a disservice to those of us trying to fix what’s broken.

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