More than 20 percent of Maine households with access to high-speed Internet service opted not to subscribe in 2013, with the majority saying broadband Internet is of no value to them, according to results of a survey released this week.
The survey, conducted by the Old Town-based James W. Sewall Co. for the state’s ConnectME Authority, found that 96.6 percent of Maine households had access to services offering download speeds of at least 3 megabits per second in 2013, up from 55 percent in 2011.
Still, just 75 percent said they subscribed to any form of high-speed Internet service in 2013, according to the survey.
Businesses in Maine had a much higher subscription rate than households, with just over 93 percent using broadband services in 2013, the report said. More than two dozen surveyed businesses owners, however, said broadband was either too expensive or offered no benefits to their operation.
The survey results underscore the hurdles Internet service providers face when trying to sell high-speed access in Maine, Sewall and ConnectME officials said. Those hurdles include a high percentage of seniors, low-income households and microbusinesses that don’t have websites.
Technology analysts and economists in the state said the low broadband adoption rate among Mainers is a barrier to economic growth and requires better outreach to convince consumers and businesses that high-speed Internet is useful and beneficial.
“That’s pretty consistent with earlier findings,” said Charles Lawton, chief economist for the Maine-based consulting company Planning Decisions Inc. “ ‘Build it and they will come’ isn’t proving true.”
Phillip Lindley, executive director of the ConnectME Authority, said older households without children often don’t have high-speed Internet, which deprives them of access to telemedicine that allows patients to receive health care services from home. And low-income families without Internet service may have a harder time applying for jobs because most employers require online job applications, he said.
“So if you don’t have a computer, you’re out of luck,” Lindley said.
Microbusinesses in Maine, which also tend not to use broadband, could increase productivity and sales if they adopted high-speed Internet service and learned how to use it, he said.
In general, organizations in Maine need to do a better job of educating those without broadband service about its benefits, Lawton said.
“Ultimately it’s about economic development,” he said.
The survey’s respondents included nearly 2,500 Maine households, about 370 businesses, more than 500 health care organizations, and about 900 schools and libraries, according to a report on its findings.
When members of households that don’t use broadband services were asked to provide a reason, about 54 percent said they don’t see any value in owning a computer. That response was up 9.4 percentage points since 2011, according to Sewall.
Lindley said the reason a higher percentage of consumers said they didn’t see value in computer ownership in 2013 was because many Mainers who did not own a computer in 2011 have since purchased one.
“The pool of people who don’t have a computer is smaller (than in 2011),” he said.
About 18 percent of household members without broadband cited cost as the reason they don’t subscribe, up 3 percentage points from 2011.
Nearly 55 percent of businesses without broadband Internet said they don’t see any value in having an Internet connection, up 15.5 percentage points from 2011, according to the survey. About 18 percent cited the cost as their primary reason, down 10.1 percentage points from 2011.
“In Maine, over 50 percent of businesses don’t even have a website,” Lindley said.
On the supply side, Maine has made significant improvements to its broadband infrastructure, the report said. Maine’s ranking in broadband deployment among the 50 states increased from 45th in 2011 to 37th in 2013, while consumer demand for broadband services was nearly flat during the same period, increasing just 2.6 percent from 2011 to 2013.
Access to higher speed service also increased over the two-year span. Mainers with access to the slowest speed broadband, or Tier 1 (up to 1.5 Mbps), increased to 93.1 percent from 91.1 percent, with more dramatic increases noted in faster-speed service. Access to Tier 3 service (3-6 Mbps) increased to 84.9 percent from 13.3 percent, and Tier 5 service (10-25 Mbps) access increased to 20.8 percent from 6.3 percent.
Businesses adopted high-speed Internet services at a more robust rate of 7.4 percent during the two-year period, according to the survey.
Still, Lindley said more work needs to be done to educate businesses, particularly those with five employees or fewer, about the benefits in sales and productivity that can be achieved by using services available only through the Internet.
For instance, he said, sole proprietorships with Internet access earn an average of $18,000 a year more than those without access.
Randy Claar, project manager at Sewall and one of the report’s authors, said the survey results do show some progress in Maine in terms of the adoption of broadband service. But the state still has a long way to go, he said.
“Maine has improved, but Maine is still, overall, middle to bottom-half of the 50 states,” Claar said.
J. Craig Anderson can be contacted at 207-791-6390 or: