By John Poirier
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The majority of Americans do not favor making affordable high-speed Internet access a government priority, according to a study released by the Pew Internet & American Life Project on Wednesday.
In a national phone survey of 2,252 adults, Pew researchers asked if expanding affordable broadband access to everyone in the country should be a top priority for the federal government.
Whether it is due to anti-government sentiment, a shifting of priorities in a tough economic environment or the uncertain benefits of the Internet, 53 percent of those surveyed said that expansion should not be attempted by the government or it was not an important priority.
"A debate has arisen about the role of government in stepping in to ensure availability to high-speed Internet access for all Americans," said Aaron Smith, author of the Pew Internet Project's report.
"The majority think not, and the surprise is that non-users are the least inclined to think government has a role in the spread of broadband."
Expanding affordable high-speed Internet access to all Americans is the main mission of the Federal Communications Commission's National Broadband Plan.
The FCC said in February that 80 million Americans have not subscribed to Internet access either because it is not available to them, it costs too much or they don't understand the relevance of broadband.
Some rural parts of the United States lack Internet service due to the cost of deployment of lines.
The FCC blueprint makes several short- to long-term recommendations to boost broadband adoption rates in urban areas and increase access for low-income and rural families.
"We're more committed than ever to educating Americans about the ways that broadband can improve their lives," said FCC spokeswoman Jen Howard, adding that the Internet can benefit businesses, education, health care and governance.
The Pew survey, which was conducted between April 29 and May 30, found that:
* 26 percent say that expansion of affordable broadband access should not be attempted by government
* 27 percent said it was "not too important" a priority
* 30 percent said it was an important priority
* 11 percent said it should be a top priority
The survey also found that adoption rates in the United States have dramatically slowed as 66 percent of Americans have a subscription compared with 63 percent in 2009.
While adoption rates among whites increased by two basis points from last year, the percent of African-Americans accessing broadband increased to 56 percent from 46 percent in 2009, effectively narrowing the gap with whites, according to the survey.
(Reporting by John Poirier; editing by Bernard Orr)