On September 17, 2020 NDIA, Public Knowledge, and 23 other organizations submitted comments in response to the National Telecommunications and Internet Administration’s Internet Use Survey. The survey targets households and covers a range of topics such as digital inclusion and the adoption of different types of devices and internet access technologies. NDIA was first organized in 2015 to provide a needed voice for experienced digital inclusion practitioners and change the narrative for families that are left without broadband access. Our comments spoke to the current issues that families across the country are facing with working from home and online learning without the internet access due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Our main points in the comments were the following:
- In order to better capture data regarding the affordability of broadband adoption, questions should ask at what price a household can afford broadband, while keeping in mind that for some families the price will be zero.
- Survey questions should address both awareness of data caps in a household’s plan, as well as the impact a data cap has on a household’s ability to complete their online activities.
- NTIA should ask questions clarifying how households are using their connections during the pandemic.
- NTIA, in its 2021 “Current Population Supplement on the Internet”, should run an experiment with the two approaches to asking about why people do not go online. One would be an “open-ended” question and the other would be “close-ended” (that is, the approach used by the Pew Research Center and others by which respondents are read a list of reasons and are permitted to choose all that apply).
In making these recommendations to NTIA, our hope is that this year’s survey accurately addresses the challenges that many families today are currently facing. Students without any home connectivity are forced to rely on public wi-fi to complete their schoolwork — in some cases spending hours in parking lots. Further, during the COVID-19 pandemic, many households are spending more time than ever online, and multiple family members are engaging in higher bandwidth activities, like videoconferencing and video streaming, simultaneously.
We recommended that NTIA ask questions that highlight whether internet connections are suiting household needs, in order to help the NTIA, policymakers, and digital inclusion activists better understand the national broadband landscape. NTIA can significantly advance the information that stakeholders like policymakers and digital inclusion activists have about barriers to connectivity, how the internet is used, and the quality of connections by adding just a few questions to its Internet Use Survey. Answers to these questions can help policy advocates such as ourselves to understand the digital divide, and create tailored solutions to close it.