Kenneth Olmstead

Public Comments to the Federal Communications Commission About Net Neutrality Contain Many Inaccuracies and Duplicates

Network neutrality regulations underpin the digital lives of many Americans, yet it is challenging to survey the public on such an inherently complex and technical subject. For this reason, Pew Research Center set out to analyze the opinions of those who had taken the time to submit their thoughts to the Federal Communications Commission.  Among the most notable findings:

Declining Majority of Online Adults Say the Internet Has Been Good for Society

Even as Americans view the internet’s personal impact in a positive light, they have grown somewhat more ambivalent about the impact of digital connectivity on society as a whole. A sizable majority of online adults (70%) continue to believe the internet has been a good thing for society. Yet the share of online adults saying this has declined by a modest but still significant 6 percentage points since early 2014. This is balanced by a corresponding increase (from 8% to 14%) in the share of online adults who say the internet’s societal impact is a mix of good and bad.

Americans have mixed views on policies encouraging broadband adoption

As the Federal Communications Commission continues to address broadband infrastructure and access, Americans have mixed views on two policies designed to encourage broadband adoption. A substantial majority of the public (70%) believes local governments should be able to build their own broadband networks if existing services in the area are either too expensive or not good enough, according to the survey, conducted March 13-27. Just 27% of US adults say these so-called municipal broadband networks should not be allowed. (A number of state laws currently prevent cities from building their own high-speed networks, and several U.S. senators recently introduced a bill that would ban these restrictions.)

At the same time, fewer than half of Americans (44%) think the government should provide subsidies to help lower-income Americans pay for high-speed internet at home. A larger share (54%) says high-speed home internet service is affordable enough that nearly every household should be able to buy service on its own.

These policy debates are occurring at a time when roughly nine-in-ten Americans describe high-speed internet service as either essential (49%) or important but not essential (41%). Only about one-in-ten Americans say that high-speed internet access is either not too important (6%) or not important at all (3%).

What the Public Knows About Cybersecurity

A Pew Research Center survey finds that many Americans are unclear about some key cybersecurity topics, terms and concepts. A majority of online adults can identify a strong password when they see one and recognize the dangers of using public Wi-Fi. However, many struggle with more technical cybersecurity concepts, such as how to identify true two-factor authentication or determine if a webpage they are using is encrypted. Those with higher levels of education and younger internet users are more likely to answer cybersecurity questions correctly.

Many smartphone owners don’t take steps to secure their devices

Cybersecurity experts recommend that smartphone owners take a number of steps to keep their mobile devices safe and secure. These include using a pass code to gain access to the phone, as well as regularly updating a phone’s apps and operating system. Many Americans, however, are not adhering to these best practices, according to a Pew Research Center report released earlier in 2017.

More than a quarter (28%) of smartphone owners say they do not use a screen lock or other security features to access their phone. And while a majority of smartphone users say they have updated their phone’s apps or operating system, about 40% say they only update when it’s convenient for them. Meanwhile, some users forgo updating their phones altogether: Around one-in-ten smartphone owners report they never update their phone’s operating system (14%) or update the apps on their phone (10%).

Social, Search & Direct -- Pathways to Digital News

In this study of US Internet traffic to 26 of the most popular news websites, direct visitors -- those who type in the news outlet’s specific address (URL) or have the address bookmarked -- spend much more time on that news site, view many more pages of content and come back far more often than visitors who arrive from a search engine or a Facebook referral.

The data also suggest that turning social media or search eyeballs into equally dedicated readers is no easy task. These are among the key findings that detail how 1 million people enrolled in one of the nation’s most popular commercial Internet panels have been connecting through their desktop and laptop computers with the most accessed or shared news sites of our time.

An analysis by Pew Research of three months of comScore data finds that among users coming to these news sites through a desktop or laptop computer, direct visitors spend, on average, 4 minutes and 36 seconds per visit. That is roughly three times as long as those who wind up on a news media website through a search engine (1 minute 42 seconds) or from Facebook (1 minute 41 seconds). Direct visitors also view roughly five times as many pages per month (24.8 on average) as those coming via Facebook referrals (4.2 pages) or through search engines (4.9 pages). And they visit a site three times as often (10.9) as Facebook and search visitors.