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Broadband Access Reduced UK Cinema Visits and Civic Engagement

Monday, October 15th, 2018 (10:32 am) - Score 550
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A new IZA discussion paper has examined the impact that the early years of ADSL broadband ISP connectivity had on social capital in the UK (i.e. relationships among people who live and work in a particular society), which among other things suggests that it reduced visits to the cinema, but meeting with friends were unaffected.

The research (PDF) correctly states that this is a “tricky” subject because endogenous sample selection and treatment assignment make it difficult to establish whether broadband penetration and social capital are connected by a causal relationship or merely spuriously correlated. Everybody is different and accounting for unobservable personality traits is never simple.

Nevertheless the paper claims to overcome some of these problems by factoring in information about the topology of the UK telephone network with geocoded longitudinal data taken from the British Household Panel Survey (BHPS). Essentially they weight the distance impact of DSL (ADSL / ADSL2+) copper broadband lines (shorter lines = faster speeds) against various other studies of population attitudes etc.

One key caveat is that the paper only focuses on a c.10 year period between around 1997 and 2009, which is when the old dial-up (slow narrowband) internet connections were making way for the new generation of ADSL broadband. This won’t be able to reflect the sizeable impact of social media (e.g. Facebook, Twitter) that only just started to take-off toward the end of the period.

On top of that it seems to overlook the existence of faster cable networks during some of this period (e.g. NTL and Telewest), which many people in urban areas did have access to. Needless to say we’d take the outcome with a pinch of salt as its findings, while still interesting, may not be as relevant to how people harness broadband today.

Highlights in the Results

Overall the authors’ paint a complex picture. They find that, after the advent of broadband in the area, several indicators of social capital started to decrease with proximity to the node of the network, suggesting that the exposure to fast internet “displaced some dimensions of social capital, but not all of them.”

Statistical Findings

A 2km reduction in the distance from the node, resulting in faster internet speeds via ADSL technologies, caused:

* A 4.95% decline in the probability of watching movies at the cinema.
* A 12.7% decline in the probability of participating in the activities of political parties.
* A 4,8% decline in the probability of participating in the activities of trade unions.
* A 6% decline in the probability of participating in the activities of voluntary service organizations.
* A 13% decline in the probability of participating in the activities of scout organizations.

However, the frequency of meetings with friends, the habit of talking with neighbours and social trust seem to be unaffected by broadband internet. Indeed some recent studies, which factor in the impact of social networks (SNS), have suggested that fast internet connectivity may even be a tool for preserving and developing existing relationships, despite time and distance constraints.

Likewise the report acknowledges that its older data and thus inability to fully factor SNS may have a big impact on some of the other aforementioned declines, such as political engagement etc. In other words, what might have been true above may no longer be true today.

On the flip side it may not be that simple. Other studies have also highlighted how the increasing importance of social media in the public discourse entails “new systemic risks connected to the propagation of misinformation” (i.e. fake news), the “extreme polarisation of the political debate” and the spreading of “online incivility” (i.e. trolling).

NOTE: The paper was authored by Andrea Geraci (European Commission and University of Oxford), Mattia Nardotto (KU Leuven and CEPR), Tommaso Reggiani (Masaryk University and IZA) and Fabio Sabatini (Sapienza University of Rome).

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Mark Jackson
By Mark Jackson
Mark is a professional technology writer, IT consultant and computer engineer from Dorset (England), he is also the founder of ISPreview since 1999 and enjoys analysing the latest telecoms and broadband developments. Find me on Twitter, , Facebook and Linkedin.
Leave a Comment
2 Responses
  1. TheFacts

    ‘To address endogeneity concerns, we exploit exogenous discontinuities in the quality of Internet access.’

    Don’t we all?

    What about the increased use of multi channel satellite TV?

  2. Optimist

    Whoever paid for this study should demand their money back.

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