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AP, LTW

WASHINGTON — The government’s plan to provide fast Internet connections to all Americans will have to include some basic instruction in Web 101, according to a new survey of Internet users and non-users.

The Federal Communications Commission’s first-ever survey on Internet usage and attitudes concludes that those who aren’t connected today need to be taught how to navigate the Web, find online information that is valuable to them and avoid hazards such as Internet scams.

More than 90 million Americans don’t utilize broadband. ()

“We need to tackle the challenge of connecting 93 million Americans to our broadband future,” said FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski in a statement. “In the 21st century, a digital divide is an opportunity divide. To bolster American competitiveness abroad and create the jobs of the future here at home, we need to make sure that all Americans have the skills and means to fully participate in the digital economy.”

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The survey also found three primary “barriers to adoption” for the use of broadband, the FCC said. Those are as spelled out by the FCC::

Affordability: 36 percent of non-adopters, or 28 million adults, said they do not have home broadband because the monthly fee is too expensive (15 percent), they cannot afford a computer, the installation fee is too high (10 percent), or they do not want to enter into a long-term service contract (9 percent). According to survey respondents, their average monthly broadband bill is $41.

Digital Literacy: 22 percent of non-adopters, or 17 million adults, indicated that they do not have home broadband because they lack the digital skills (12 percent) or they are concerned about potential hazards of online life, such as exposure to inappropriate content or security of personal information (10 percent).

Relevance: 19 percent of non-adopters, or 15 million adults, said they do not have broadband because they say that the Internet is a waste of time, there is no online content of interest to them or, for dial-up users, they are content with their current service.

The study, which was released Tuesday, comes less than a month before the FCC is due to hand Congress policy recommendations on how to make affordable, high-speed Internet access a reality for everyone. The findings are certain to shape the policy recommendations in that plan, which was mandated by last year’s stimulus bill.

The Obama administration has identified universal broadband as critical to driving economic development, producing jobs and expanding the reach of cutting-edge medicine and educational opportunities.

Part of the FCC broadband plan will focus on building networks in parts of the country that lack high-speed access – particularly rural America. Among other things, the plan will propose using the fund that subsidizes telephone service in poor and rural communities to pay for Internet connections and finding more airwaves for wireless broadband services.

But the survey findings show that the FCC plan must also focus on teaching people how to use the Internet and convincing them that it is relevant to their lives, said John Horrigan, FCC consumer research director and author of the survey.

The FCC grouped “non-adopters” of broadband into four categories and described each this way:

Near Converts, who make up 30 percent of non-adopters, have the strongest tendencies toward getting broadband. They have high rates of computer ownership, positive attitudes about the Internet. Many are dial-up or “not-at-home” users, and affordability is the leading reason for non-adoption among this group. They are relatively youthful compared with other non-adopters, with a median age of 45.

Digital Hopefuls, who make up 22 percent of non-adopters, like the idea of being online but lack the resources for access. Few have a computer and, among those who use one, few feel comfortable with the technology. Some 44 percent cite affordability as a barrier to adoption and they are also more likely than average to say digital literacy are a barrier. This group is heavily Hispanic and has a high share of African-Americans.

Digitally Uncomfortable, who make up 20 percent of non-adopters, are the mirror image of the Digital Hopefuls; they have the resources for access but not a bright outlook on what it means to be online. Nearly all of the Digitally Uncomfortable have computers, but they lack the skills to use them and have tepid attitudes toward the Internet. This group reports all three barriers: affordability, digital literacy, and relevance.

Digitally Distant, who make up 28 percent of non-adopters, do not see the point of being online. Few in this group see the Internet as a tool for learning and most see it as a dangerous place for children. This is an older group (the median age is 63), nearly half are retired and half say that either relevance or digital literacy are barriers to adoption.

Among people who do not use broadband, 65 percent say there is too much pornography and offensive material on the Internet, 57 percent say it is too easy for personal information to be stolen online and 46 percent say the Internet is too dangerous for children.

The FCC’s findings were based on telephone surveys of more than 5,000 adult Americans conducted in October and November of last year. The survey found that 78 percent of American adults use the Internet, including 6 percent who don’t have a connection at home but get access at work or somewhere else, and 74 percent have Internet access at home, including 6 percent who use a dial-up connection.

The survey also found that only half of all rural Americans have broadband and one in 10 rural Americans who do not have broadband say it is not available where they live.

For questions asked of the larger group of 5,005 adult Americans, the margin of error was plus or minus 1.6 percentage points.