Fall 2011

Being Disconnected in a Broadband-Connected World

John B. Horrigan

The evolution of the Internet in the past decade — from a slow, stationary, and primarily communications-based technology to a mobile, fast technology that supports a range of communication, participatory, and transactional applications — has made access more valuable, and disconnection more consequential, for individuals. This evolution means that stakeholders should embrace a different framing of the digital divide, focusing on the costs of digital exclusion. These costs can fall on an individual, if the Internet is the only way to carry out some tasks, and on society, if expensive and less-efficient legacy systems must be maintained to serve a shrinking minority without access. Whereas the digital divide debate concerns technology scarcity for certain population segments, addressing the costs of digital exclusion is about developing people's capacity to manage today's abundance of digital resources. This essay offers suggestions on a framework to develop tools that will enable individuals to take advantage of the affordances of broadband.

JOHN B. HORRIGAN is Vice President of Policy and Research at TechNet, where he leads research on technology, innovation, and telecommunications policy. Previously, he was part of an FCC team that developed the National Broadband Plan (NBP), designing and conducting the FCC's first national survey on broadband adoption and usage. The survey findings were highlighted in the NBP's first working paper, Broadband Adoption and Use in America. He also served as Associate Director of Research for the Pew Internet & American Life Project.

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