Recent Tech Adoption Trends and Implications for the Digital Divide

18 Pages Posted: 1 Apr 2012 Last revised: 16 Aug 2012

See all articles by John B. Horrigan

John B. Horrigan

Benton Institute for Broadband & Society

Date Written: August 1, 2012


In recent years, there have been two developments in technology adoption that are in tension with one another. On the one hand, home broadband adoption has increased only modestly since 2009. On the other, there has been a very rapid increase the adoption of Smartphones. This development presents questions for policymakers and stakeholders interested in the digital divide, namely: Does the leveling off of home broadband adoption and accompanying growth in Smartphone adoption represent a substitution effect? That is, are those without broadband at home simply turning to Smartphones instead? If so, though users may be acquiring Smartphones instead of home broadband service, how do usage patterns compare for Smartphone-only users versus those with home broadband connections? That is, do those who have only Smartphone access to the internet do as much online as home broadband users? Are Smartphone-only users equally as confident as home broadband users in their ability to find information online?

Understanding the answers to these questions will be important to policymakers and those in the private sector interested in closing technology access gaps. The Federal Communications Commission has recently announced the Connect to Compete (C2) initiative, a public-private collaboration designed to provide low-cost home computers and broadband connections to qualified low-income people. The FCC is also exploring reforming the Lifeline/Link-Up program to provide support for broadband service to qualifying low-income households. In both cases, knowing whether Smartphone are substituting for home broadband connection – or how Smartphones impact overall usage patterns – is important to program design.

To address the questions identified above, this paper will rely on data drawn from a statewide telephone survey of Illinois residents fielded in February-March of 2012. The sample size of the survey is 3,500 respondents, which will permit analysis of these questions across demographic and geographic characteristics of respondents, which will be of interest to policymakers and other stakeholders. The survey explored in detail the following issues: How do people they get online (e.g., home broadband, tablets, Smartphones)? What online activities they do (e.g., information searches, shopping, educational uses)? How do they view the usefulness of different access means for carrying out tasks online? How do data caps (if users are subject to them) impact Smartphone users’ online behavior?

In addition, the paper will draw on other publicly available data on Smartphone and home broadband adoption (mainly from the Pew Internet Project) as points of comparison with the Illinois sample.

John B. Horrigan is currently Vice President, Policy & Research, for TechNet, where he conducts research on broadband and other innovation policy issues.

Prior to joining TechNet, Horrigan was part of FCC Chairman Genachowski’s leadership team tasked with developing the National Broadband Plan (NBP). While there, he designed and conducted the FCC’s first national survey on broadband adoption and usage. The survey findings were highlighted in the NBP’s working paper, Broadband Adoption and Use in America. Most recently, Horrigan’s essay “What are the Consequences of Being Disconnected in a Broadband-Connected World?” was published in the Fall 2011 issue of Daedalus in a special issue edited by David Clark.

Before joining the FCC, Horrigan was Associate Director, Research, with the Pew Internet & American Life Project for nine years. Horrigan has a Ph.D. in public policy from the University of Texas at Austin.

Keywords: Digital divide, technology adoption

Suggested Citation

Horrigan, John B., Recent Tech Adoption Trends and Implications for the Digital Divide (August 1, 2012). 2012 TRPC, Available at SSRN: or

John B. Horrigan (Contact Author)

Benton Institute for Broadband & Society ( email )

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