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Sept. 17, 2004

 

U-M study: High-speed Internet spurs social interaction

ANN ARBOR, Mich.—People who use a fast Internet access also tend to be more social than those who use the dial-up method, a University of Michigan study shows.

These broadband Internet users, however, are no more engaged than dial-up, or narrowband, users in discussions about important political developments.

These findings suggest high-speed Internet tends to facilitate interpersonal interaction, mostly in non-political social settings, said Nojin Kwak, assistant professor of communication studies at the University and the study's author.

Broadband users are more likely than narrowband users to know about entertainment or politically non-substantive areas, such as the personal lives of celebrities and personal scandals of politicians, the study found. There is no difference, however, between broadband and narrowband users in their knowledge about politically significant matters, such as international conflicts and the political system, Kwak said.

"Broadband Internet tends to help its users improve their understanding of events and figures in the news, but the benefit seems to be limited," said Kwak, who wrote "To Broadband or Not to Broadband: The Relationship between High-speed Internet and Knowledge and Participation." The study looked at the possible effects of broadband Internet on various aspects of political and social engagement.

"Overall, dial-up modem users are more interactive with others and knowledgeable about current affairs than nonusers of the Internet," Kwak said. "But despite its increased speed and a greater opportunity to utilize political resources on the Internet, broadband Internet doesn't seem to be more effective than narrowband Internet in fostering politically active citizens, while its added benefits in entertainment and social areas are clear."

Many computer users increasingly subscribe to broadband service, most through cable modem and DSL, which allows access to the Internet at a faster speed than narrowband service through a telephone modem. The number of high-speed lines for residential and small business subscribers more than tripled to 26 million in December 2003 from 7.8 million in June 2001, according to the Federal Communications Commission. In recent years, more politicians, including President Bush, have recommended that affordable high-speed Internet access become available to all Americans by 2007.

Kwak's study also supported other published research that broadband is used more often by a younger audience, in part, because of the multimedia availability. But while the research sheds further light on the broadband use, the study's participants were asked about Internet use at home, not at work, school or public libraries.

The findings will be published this month in the Journal of Broadcasting and Electronic Media. U-M doctoral candidates Nathaniel Poor, Marko Skoric and Ann Williams assisted Kwak in the research.

For additional information on Kwak, visit: http://www.lsa.umich.edu/comm/detail/0,2005,4128%255Farticle%255F8706,00.html

For more about the Journal of Broadcasting and Electronic Media, visit: http://www.beaweb.org/jobem/info.html

Contact: Jared Wadley, (734) 936-7819, jwadley@umich.edu