By Garrett C. Hill, CEO, X2nSat, Inc.

Call it a false dichotomy. Call it fallacy of false choice. Call it a digital divide. In my layman’s vernacular, I think it may be simply a false problem.

Broadband penetration is often presented as a serious issue in the United States, as something that needs to be “remedied” because we’re falling behind, and because of statistics such as 2012 Census data published by the National Telecommunications & Information Administration stating that “more than 25 percent of American households do not subscribe to broadband at home.” The reasons speculated upon for this – by organizations such as Broadband For America and the global Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) – include a lack of education about broadband’s availability, the affordability of broadband (it’s too expensive even if it is available), and concerns about uptake.

The ‘what’ is pretty clear, but I don’t think the “why” is so obvious. Adoption is not the same issue as access, of course. From a satellite guy’s point of view, I think it’s important to note that all broadband is not the same, and all needs are not the same.

But before I stir the pot and play devil’s advocate on this issue, I’m going to start with the basics.

What is broadband? Going with the standard Federal Communications Commission (FCC) definition: “The term broadband commonly refers to high-speed Internet access that is always on and faster than the traditional dial-up access. Broadband includes several high-speed transmission technologies such as:

Broadband Subscriptions by Technology
The broadband technology you choose will depend on a number of factors. These may include whether you are located in an urban or rural area, how broadband Internet access is packaged with other services (such as voice telephone and home entertainment), price, and availability.” And it’s interesting to note that the FCC’s technical “speed” definition of broadband changed earlier this year, which was in response to marketing language used by some Internet providers.

X2nSat offers, of course, a satellite broadband service, sending and receiving your broadband signal to a satellite 22,000 miles up. We have plans that give users a high-quality broadband Internet experience and allow competitive price points in relation to other local wireless options (such as 3G/4G services from AT&T and Verizon). I’ll save the explanation of contention ratio and how X2nSat services are tailored for every customer to have an amazing, dependable experience for a future blog.

Introduced in the early aughts (I guess you’d write that 2000s), broadband grew quickly at first in the U.S. and then sort of tapered off because of high cost and lack of perceived need by the average consumer. Apparently, homeowners were OK listening for a dial-up connection, or they just didn’t see what all the fuss was about with this Internet stuff and couldn’t imagine why they’d ever need it.

And that leads me to my simple premise, and one that I think gets overlooked in all this “Internet of Things” and seemingly ubiquitous approach to getting every American access to broadband service: It may just be that every single person does not WANT broadband. It may sound strange for the CEO of a company that offers a broadband service to say this “out loud,” but I think it’s a paradigm that should be explored and not ignored, for common sense’s sake if nothing else.

An article from just a couple of years ago on The Verge headlined “Only 2 percent of Americans can’t get internet access, but 20 percent choose not to.” According to the Pew Research Center, among adults who do not use the Internet, almost half said the main reason they don’t go online is because they don’t think the Internet is relevant to them. And if they don’t think it is, that’s their choice. Why should we look for a needle in a haystack, so to speak, and force a product or service on someone who doesn’t want it?

As I’ve stated in the past, too many corporations are just way too interested in making sure everyone has broadband access. It seems to be on everyone’s agenda, from the OECD to the USDA. Their motives can’t be purely altruistic.

I think it’s like the old landline days. What’s the uptake with POTS (plain old telephone service)? Well, it’s going down because people say ‘why have two phones?’ When it comes to broadband, they need to get the right kind of services in the right places, where the value is understood.

What bothers me is that the issue is being positioned that we need the government to allow more broadband. If you haven’t already read it all before, you can check out the international OECD national digital agenda here, and a USDA report highlighting the government focus on broadband access here.

There’s some fascinating data from the Pew Internet & American Life Project detailing who and how many people in the U.S. have broadband and in what format (smartphones are an alternate form of “home” Internet access), which makes some of my point for me, including the fact that in 2011 98% of U.S. households have access to broadband, but only 69% used it.

I believe wholeheartedly that any household that desires the opportunity to have broadband access should have it, for the myriad of reasons we all know – communication, education, opportunity and more. I just think we should pause and ask ourselves if we need to be so maniacally focused on providing it to those who DON’T want it, or who choose not to have it for a variety of reasons.

Thanks for dialing in.

About the Author

As CEO and founder, Mr. Hill guides the vision and cutting-edge culture of X2nSat, one of the most veteran VSAT providers in North America. In 1996, he founded this forward-thinking satellite communications company with a mission to provide highly reliable, wireless network and communication solutions to a variety of North American industries.