Key ingredient in digital readiness? Digital resourcefulness and utilization!

Roberto Gallardo has a new research report on Gauging Household Digital Readiness. I spend a ton of time focused on access – but as a librarian, I have been worried about readiness (information has morphed into digital) for decades. Access is a piece of digital readiness but as Roberto points out – it only a piece.

Here are the key findings from the report…

  • Regarding device & internet access, nonmetro respondents relied more on their smartphones and mobile data to connect to the internet compared to their metro counterparts. They also had slightly higher device performance issues as well as more extended downtime periods with their internet access. Despite these disadvantages however, they connected to the internet as frequently and with diverse devices as their metro counterparts. In the end, nonmetro did have a lower DIA score compared to metropolitan respondents.
  • Regarding digital resourcefulness and utilization, metro respondents had a slightly higher and statistically significant score but overall had similar digital resourcefulness levels as well as number and frequency of internet uses as nonmetro. On digital resourcefulness, while both metro and nonmetro respondents felt electronic devices made them more productive, a higher share of nonmetro respondents needed help setting up new electronic devices as well as finding it difficult to discern online information as trustworthy. Likewise, the share of nonmetro responses was higher compared to metro in all three statements regarding online echo chambers. On internet utilization, both metro and nonmetro households used the internet on average 11 different ways (out of 25 listed) at least once monthly. As expected, households relying more on mobile data (50 percent or more of the time over the past year) had a lower internet utilization.
  • Regarding internet benefits and impact, there is ample room for growth. A higher share of respondents saved money online compared to earning money regardless of metro status. More than four-fifths of respondents did not make money online gauged by selling, freelancing or renting. In addition, about twelve percent of respondents, regardless of metro status, saved money online regarding healthcare. Less than ten percent of respondents obtained a promotion due to online educational credentials, but nonmetro households had a higher share compared to metro. Lastly, a little more than one-fifth of respondents (metro) secured a job due to the internet over the past year, while less than fifteen percent of nonmetro did.
  • Regarding the digital readiness index score, metro households had a higher score (5.2) compared to nonmetro (4.5), leaving ample room for improvement given 10 is the highest score. More interestingly, when it comes to digital readiness a metro-nonmetro divide was not as large and surpassed by income and occupation differences.
  • Lastly, the dimension that yields more bang for the buck regarding improving digital readiness is digital resourcefulness and utilization after controlling for specific socioeconomic characteristics. On the other hand, of the three dimensions analyzed, internet benefits and impact had the lowest score. In other words, the impact of the internet on households—as measured by this study—is lagging. This implies that focusing on improving digital literacy and skills is critical to ensure the benefits of internet continue to accrue to households.

I am most excited by the final point – the focus on digital resourcefulness and utilization. Because that’s when technology changes from being a challenge to a solution. It’s like the change in grade school, when kids go from learning to read to reading to learn. A world opens up! You need to have access, you need to have devices that work – but that’s technology. A big enough check will take care of that. Resourceful and utilization is all people.

It is interesting to see what people do online based on their location…

 

Also interesting to see who saves money and who makes money online. Non-metro people seem to make less money freelancing; I wonder how much of that is attributed to Uber/Lyft. Whereas non-metro households earn more in rent. Maybe that’s Air B&B – certainly that could be true in some of Minnesota’s lake areas. Non-metro households also report greater savings with online healthcare.

Some factors I’m sure reflect the difference in rural/urban areas and some reflect the difference in people who choose to live in one or the other.

On top of  being an interesting look at what people do online I think this report does help propose some options to encourage greater use. First non-users can see how much is to be gained by moving some activities online but also digital inclusion professionals can focus on getting beyond that learning to read stage to encourage greater satisfaction and stronger desire to learn more. It reminds me of one of my favorite digital inclusion activities – the scavenger hunt. Get people to travel the city of town using online apps and other tools for prizes. Encouraging resourcefulness and utilization!

A map of areas in MN without Internet access

NDIA has created maps from the latest Census data…

The interactive maps below are based on new Census data released on December 6, 2018 as part of the 2017 American Community Survey (ACS) 5-Year Estimates.

For the first time, the 2017 ACS includes computer ownership and internet access information for local Census tracts. (Note: The Census uses the term “internet access” to refer to actual household connections, not just availability.) This information, presented in ACS Tables B28002 through B28011, was previously released only for communities of 20,000 or more and only on a community-wide basis. (NDIA’s Worst Connected Cities reports are based on this ACS citywide data.)

I was most interested in the map that shows where we lack access…

But the map of access is important too…

Both maps are interactive if you visit the NDIA site.

Digital Divide is in the eye of the beholder and apparently the FCC wears rose colored glasses

Microsoft has apparently done a survey of broadband use in the US. Their numbers are very different from the FCC numbers, which are widely used especially in regards to policy making and funding. The New York Times wrote about the research; I’m borrowing from the Benton Foundation summary…

A new study by Microsoft researchers casts a light on the actual use of high-speed internet across the country, and the picture it presents is very different from Federal Communications Commission numbers. Their analysis suggests that the speedy access is much more limited than the FCC data shows. Over all, Microsoft concluded that 162.8 million people do not use the internet at broadband speeds, while the FCC says broadband is not available to 24.7 million Americans. The discrepancy is particularly stark in rural areas.

The issue with the current FCC statistics, experts say, is that they rely on simplistic surveys of internet service providers that inherently overstate coverage. For example, if one business in an area has broadband service, then the entire area is typically considered to have broadband service available. The Microsoft researchers instead looked at the internet speeds of people using the company’s software and services, like Office software, Windows updates, Bing searches and maps, and Xbox game play. The Microsoft data is much more detailed than the official government statistics, said John Kahan, Microsoft’s chief data analytics officer for external affairs. Microsoft plans to release the national comparisons, as well as state and county data in 2018.

I will try to keep an eye out for the state and county data! And I will pull out one fact from the actual report (or at least blog on the report)…

As the country looks to address 5G technology, it’s clear that it will provide a vital advance for many parts of the nation. But given the nature of the spectrum on which 5G relies, it’s not likely to soon reach the rural areas that currently lack broadband access. For example, today 13 percent of Americans using mobile devices still can’t even access 4G technology.

Place-sensitive distributed development – a strategy to lift up rural areas with technology

Brookings recently released a fascinating report on countering the geography of discontent. They outline and detail the economic changes to area based on uneven spread of digital technology…

However, in the 1980s, that long-standing trend began to break down as the spread of digital technology increasingly rewarded the most talent-laden clusters of skills and firms.

As the economy changed, convergence gave way to divergence, as a fortunate upper tier of big, dense metropolitan areas (the top 2 percent of U.S. communities based on measures of growth and wages) began to consistently grow faster than the median and least-prosperous cities.

Techy town flourished and smaller towns or the rural spaces between towns suffered. (There are some awesome examples of areas that bucked this trend, but on the whole we see it here in Minnesota.) This has created a deep divide in the country – not only manifesting in technology and economy…

As a result, few can now deny that the geography of America’s current economic order has brought economic and social cleavages that have spawned frightening externalities: entrenched poverty, “deaths of despair,” and deepening small-town resentment of coastal cosmopolitan elites. It is baleful realities like these that caught many politicians, academics, and journalists off guard in 2016 as they poured through post-election red-blue maps. In a very real way, the 2016 election of Donald Trump represented the revenge of the places left behind in a changing economy.

The question they post is how to balance this inequity….

Therefore, we favor a third approach to regional policy, something akin to what scholars Simona Iammarino, Andrés Rodriguez-Pose, and Michael Storper call “place-sensitive distributed development.” This approach assumes that regional equity won’t occur without economic development but that excessive imbalances between regions can jeopardize such development. Our place-sensitive strategy seeks to mitigate uneven development by ensuring economic growth occurs in a wider swath of regions.

What might place-sensitive distributed development look like in practice? To give a sense, we suggest five examples of the kinds of strategies that would help—three that focus on ensuring more regions have the assets and capabilities to flourish, and two more that suggest what specific regional development initiatives might look like. Here’s a look:

[abbreviated list]

  • Ensure businesses in lagging regions have access to capital. The pullback in small business lending following the financial crisis has hit less densely populated parts of the country particularly hard. Efforts to improve data on small business performance can help banks lower the transaction costs of extending small loans while innovations in financial technology can help create a secondary market for them and reduce risk. Boosting alternative, non-bank sources of capital, such as venture capital funding, can also help support regional economic growth.
  • Reduce gaps in broadband. Large gaps in broadband service and subscriptions have put businesses and workers in less densely populated areas at a huge disadvantage. Policy proposals should focus on connecting more people and encouraging greater subscription rates in places already endowed with broadband.
  • Identify “growth poles” that can support regional growth. While it may be inefficient to “save” every left-behind small city or rural community in the U.S., targeted federal policy aimed at strengthening 10 or so promising mid-sized centers of advanced industry activity would bring more growth to some communities adjacent to many more lagging towns and rural areas. Federal investment in these “growth poles” will put more communities on a path toward self-sustaining economic growth.
  • Help Americans move to opportunity. The federal government should expand the availability of financial support for individuals who want to make long-distance moves to places promising greater economic opportunity. At the same time, federal policy should encourage states and localities to relax zoning restrictions and construct new housing units to increase the supply of affordable housing. For those who wish to stay in their communities to live but not necessarily to work, state and local governments could provide a subsidy for workers commuting to adjacent communities.

Digital equity stands in the way of Medicaid in Arkansas

I know this story is about Arkansas, not Minnesota but I know Minnesota was looking at a similar law last year. And sometimes it’s nice to learn from the sidelines. The Washington Post reports…

This summer, Arkansas became the first state to require poor people to prove they’re employed to receive Medicaid.

Specifically, recipients need to work 80 hours a month to get Medicaid…

More than 12,000 have been purged from the state Medicaid rolls since September — and not necessarily because they’re actually failing to work 80 hours a month, as the state requires.

The article tells the story of two recipients who lost their insurance because they didn’t have access and/or understanding of technology required to report hours and the rules behind the measure…

The state made reporting online-only to avoid hiring more staff. (It also didn’t allocate any additional dollars to help enrollees find work.) Officials did this even though Arkansas has the lowest level of household Internet access in the country, and the online portal doesn’t work well on smartphones. Once, when I tried it, I got an error message saying my phone’s browser was “not compatible.” The next day, it was mysteriously compatible again.

Most indefensibly, the website shuts down every single night  between 9 p.m. and 7 a.m. for “scheduled maintenance.”

No wonder 80 percent of those required to report work hours or exemptions each month are reporting nothing at all.

It reminds me of working on the library reference desk when Government Docs moved most of their documents online. It saved a lot of money in terms of printing for Government Docs but it suddenly meant most people had to go to the library to access these documents. It made a lot more work for the library and even more so the users of users of the info.

Broadband and technology can be a great way to cut costs but only when everyone has access to it and skills to use it.

Five digital inclusion trends in the US

In honor of digital inclusion week, the NTIA has come up with five digital inclusion trends in the US. I’m going to borrow from the Benton Foundation summary to share them…

  1. Digital Inclusion Planning. More governments and coalitions are creating city-wide, regional and state-wide broadband and digital inclusion planning programs.  Many of these plans include dedicated staff, grant programs, and outcome-based measurement.
  2. Program Integration.  Federal agencies understand that broadband access and digital literacy are important aspects of their missions, so they are including broadband and digital inclusion as “eligible expenses” in government programs and funding streams.
  3. Library Modernization. Libraries are community hubs for digital access, research, and content creation. Partnering with libraries and other community-based nonprofits is a great way for digital inclusion coalitions to reach people where they live and work.
  4. Performance Measurement.  Part and parcel with the trend in structured planning, we also see a trend in measuring program performance through data collection and research. Measurement is important at the beginning of a program to assess gaps and needs and to size up assets and opportunities, but it is also essential as programs develop and change.
  5. Leveraging Assets.  Digital inclusion relies on community investment in broadband infrastructure.

We will be talking more about Digital Inclusion at the Blandin Conference coming up this week. I have been helping to organize a showcase of about 10 practitioners who will share the digital inclusion projects and tools they are using in their communities.

Discount Internet Guidebook from NDIA

The National Digital Inclusion Alliance has just release a guidebook on discount Internet options. Here’s a summary from their introduction…

This guidebook has a twofold purpose. It is a practical guide for digital inclusion practitioners — local community-based organizations, libraries, housing authorities, government agencies and others working directly with community members in need of affordable home broadband service. This guidebook also contains recommendations for policy makers and internet service providers to improve current offers and establish new offers.

The guidebook will be more valuable to community members looking for options in urban areas because there are more options in urban areas but the policy advice and advice to providers is helpful to everyone.