How Technology Can Balance Urban/Rural Development

There was a panel at SXSW (South by Southwest) on – How Technology Can Balance Urban/Rural Development. The panelists spoke from an international perspective but there were some lessons that we could learn in Minnesota. And I think there’s something they could learn from us.

The talked about two ways to fix the rural broadband issue…

The most obvious lines of thinking are that there are perhaps two main ways to solve this: influencing market forces in a way that incentivizes private companies to build more rural broadband infrastructure; or creating a government-owned high-speed Internet network.

That is where I think the “Minnesota model” of encouraging public-private partnership with state grants could be a big boost to many areas.

They noted some other tactics, such as digital inclusion. I think most of Minnesota is beyond needing to learn why to use technology but the how can still be a barrier. Whether that’s how to use email or how to run an online business.

They talked about extending smart city ideas to the village…

This work must now be translated to what the panelists called “smart village” technologies. So whereas the parks department in San Francisco can — and is — use sensors to tell when garbage cans in their parks are too full, farmers in Modesto, Calif., can similarly use sensors to tell if their pigs are getting sick.

And one very practical idea is to ask new developers about their plans for broadband…

Schweiger described one particularly effective means of supporting broadband in her city, which has been offering a questionnaire to property developers asking how they will incorporate broadband infrastructure into their new construction. Schweiger described it as “a behavior nudging mechanism.”

PCs for People distribute 53 computers in Rock County

Rock County Star Herald reports…

Rock County Library moved forward with its broadband education initiative by giving away computers.

Library director Calla Jarvie, along with members of the broadband education steering committee, unloaded 53 personal computers.

Distribution took place Tuesday, Jan 15, at the law enforcement center with extras being delivered to the library on Main Street Luverne where they are being stored.

Twenty-five families in the Luverne and Hills-Beaver Creek school districts received personal computer for home use.

“Nowadays so many things you have to do, you have to do online,” she said. …

The computer deliver from LCs for People was the first major event completed with the $75,000 grant.

Fun to hear about programs that puts computers in the hands that need them. Blandin Foundation is the source of the grant.

FCC says the digital divide is narrowing – but is it getting deeper?

According to a press release from the FCC

The Chairman’s draft of the annual FCC report to Congress shows that since last year’s report, the number of Americans lacking access to a fixed broadband connection meeting the FCC’s benchmark speed of 25 Mbps/3 Mbps has dropped by over 25%, from 26.1 million Americans at the end of 2016 to 19.4 million at the end of 2017.  Moreover, the majority of those gaining access to such high-speed connections, approximately 5.6 million, live in rural America, where broadband deployment has traditionally lagged.

The private sector has responded to FCC reforms by deploying fiber to 5.9 million new homes in 2018, the largest number ever recorded.  And overall, capital expenditures by broadband providers increased in 2017, reversing declines that occurred in both 2015 and 2016.

Other key findings of the report include the following, based on data through the end of 2017:

  • The number of Americans with access to 100 Mbps/10Mpbs fixed broadband increased by nearly 20%, from 244.3 million to 290.9 million.

  • The number of Americans with access to 250 Mbps/50 Mbps fixed broadband grew by over 45%, to 205.2 million, and the number of rural Americans with access to such service more than doubled

Based on these and other data, the report concludes that advanced telecommunications services – broadband – is being deployed on a reasonable and timely basis.   The Commission is expected to vote on the report in the coming weeks.

It strikes me that 19.4 million people don’t have access to 25/3 broadband while 290.9 million have access to 100/10 and 205.2 million have access to 250/50. There may be fewer people on the far end of the digital divide but the chasm between the haves and have-nots is deepening.

Net Inclusion 2019 April 1-3 in Charlotte

I really enjoyed this conference a few years ago when it was in the Cities…

Net Inclusion 2019 welcomes digital inclusion community practitioners, advocates, academics, Internet service providers, and policymakers to discuss:
• local, state and federal policies and policy innovations impacting digital equity,
• sources of financial and programmatic support of digital inclusion programs,
• and digital inclusion best practices from across the country.
Net Inclusion 2019 will begin Monday, April 1st with pre-conference events in the morning and Digital Inclusion Site Tours, included in the cost of registration, in the afternoon. Tuesday, April 2nd will be a full day of interactive sessions, and we will conclude on Wednesday, April 3rd at 3:00PM.

Don’t wait to book your hotel – a limited number of rooms are available at a discounted rate!

Discount early bird registration for Net Inclusion available until February 14th!

Register for Net Inclusion 2019!

How many Minnesotans lack broadband? Maybe 409K, maybe 3M

Last month, I wrote about the discrepancies between FCC and Microsoft broadband mapping. The FCC tracks access based on info from providers. Microsoft looks at internet speeds of people using the company’s software and services, like Office software, Windows updates, Bing searches and maps, and Xbox game play.

Just this week, Microsoft made their interactive maps available to the public. They enable users to drill down to data at the county and congressional district levels. Each map allows a user to hover over an area to reveal granular broadband availability data and compare the FCC’s Form 477 data on broadband availability to Microsoft’s data measuring where Americans are using broadband at 25 Mbps speed.

Below is a screenshot but as you can see the FCC map indicates that broadband is not available to 409,000 people where the Microsoft maps says 3 million do no use broadband. The FCC maps defines broadband as 25 Mbps up and 3 Mbps down. The Microsoft maps only mention download speed of 25 Mbps.

What does fiber mean to a community? What will 5G mean? NBC asks RS Fiber

NBC recently spoke with RS Fiber (in rural MN) and a student in Newark to talk about what having broadband means during the course of a day. They talk about the impact of 5G, especially the deepening of the digital divide as some areas get it and some don’t. And they talk about the divide being based on access in rural areas and affordability in urban areas. The answer either way is for people who don’t have access to move to areas that do – for the farmer that means driving 60 miles to update data. In Newark that means a student taking a bus to a library with access.

They also talk a little bit about the business model and how RS Fiber, as a cooperative, is able to meet the business needs of local residents above business needs of shareholders because the local residents are the shareholders.

It’s a quick five minute video but it hits on a lot of issues from the front lines. And they ask the internet-old question – is broadband a utility.

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!