April 25, 2014

New broadband survey notes progress in Nebraska

Although elderly and low-income Nebraskans continue to lag behind other demographic groups in Internet access, they have made significant gains in the last four years, according to a new survey.

The survey, “Internet Connectivity and Use in Nebraska: A Follow-up Study,” tracks progress made since a 2010 survey that asked about Nebraskans’ current use of technology, their opinions about community technology resources and their technology training needs.

Tracking this information is key, said Chuck Schroeder, founding executive director of the Nebraska Rural Futures Institute.

“We know that Internet access, and the speed and reliability of broadband service, are critically important to the viability and resiliency of rural communities,” he said. “Entrepreneurial business opportunities, robust educational programming, quality healthcare and overall quality of life are significantly enhanced when current information technology is part of the community infrastructure. And rural people are at a significant disadvantage when it is not. While the disparity between rural and urban locales continues, we are pleased to see the progress shown in this report.”

Both surveys were conducted by the Nebraska Broadband Initiative, a partnership of state and University of Nebraska entities.

Overall, 86 percent of Nebraska households have Internet access, and 82 percent have broadband service, up from 81 percent and 76 percent, respectively, since 2010.

While older people, people with lower household income, people with lower education levels, households without children and households in nonmetropolitan areas continue to be less likely to have Internet access and, specifically broadband service, some of those groups increased Internet access considerably since 2010, noted Becky Vogt, survey research manager with the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

– Persons aged 65 and older with Internet access at home increased from 56 percent to 69 percent. For broadband service, those numbers are 48 percent and 64 percent in 2010 and 2014, respectively.

– The proportion of persons with the lowest household incomes with broadband service at home increased from 44 percent to 53 percent.

The survey also found that Nebraskans in the Lincoln and Omaha areas were more likely to have broadband service at home – 90 and 87 percent respectively – compared to Central Nebraska’s 73 percent. However, Central Nebraska has seen a significant increase, from 56 percent in 2010.

Other findings:

– Sixty-five percent of non-Internet users don’t have a computer; 36 percent said Internet access is too expensive; and 34 percent say they have no interest in the Internet.

– Use of several Internet activities has increased in four years, including: social networking, up from 69 percent to 80 percent; watching videos, up from 72 percent to 79 percent; online banking or bill pay, up from 72 percent to 79 percent; VoIP, Skype, magicJack, or other video phoning technology, up from 19 percent to 37 percent; and two-way audio/video meetings, up from 15 percent to 27 percent.

– Nebraska households are generally satisfied with the reliability, speed and support of their Internet service but less satisfied with its price.

– Seventy-seven percent of Nebraska households have access to a local place, such as a library or school, where use of Internet-accessible computers is free.

– Many Nebraskans are interested in information technology courses such as website development and basic computer networking. And most prefer traditional delivery methods for this training, such as CD or DVD, face-to-face workshops, online courses and videos.

Frank Landis, chairman of the Nebraska Public Service Commission, said he was encouraged by the findings.

“Today’s survey report shows real progress in the deployment and utilization of high-speed Internet capability in Nebraska. It reveals that almost nine in 10 Nebraska households have Internet access at home,” he said. “However, a gap remains for consumers living in our rural areas, for low-income consumers, and for our aging population. For example, over a third of non-users cite affordability as the reason for not subscribing to Internet at home.

“Having the very best data is critical in the development of a comprehensive broadband plan to increase Internet access and adoption going forward,” Landis added. “I appreciate the work of our partners in the Nebraska Broadband Initiative. More importantly, I thank the many Nebraskans who invested their time to respond to this survey. The PSC looks forward to doing our part to tackle the challenges ahead. “

Schroeder said, “In order to address this issue, we must understand the availability of technology, its utilization and the training needs of rural residents. The University of Nebraska-Lincoln, as a partner in the Nebraska Broadband Initiative, is an essential component in conducting this research in a timely, thorough and credible fashion.

“We cannot effectively address challenges and opportunities only described anecdotally. This research provides a powerful tool for understanding and strategic action by both public and private sector players in the broadband arena,” Schroeder added.

The Nebraska Broadband Initiative is a partnership of the Nebraska Public Service Commission, the University of Nebraska, Nebraska Department of Economic Development, Nebraska Information Technology Commission and the AIM Institute.

For more information, go to http://broadband.nebraska.gov.