The Connect America Fund provides annual federal funding to some of the largest telecommunications providers, but it can be hard for local officials to know where these dollars go.
A recent report digs deep into the federal subsidies for Internet service in Minnesota. Researcher Bill Coleman of Community Technology Advisors led a Blandin Foundation project that explored how federal Connect America Fund dollars have been used in two Minnesota telephone exchanges. In the end, researchers found that these networks would likely not meet Minnesota’s state connectivity goals.
Minnesota cannot just rely on federal funds to expand broadband high-speed internet service, a Blandin Foundation report shows.
CenturyLink, Consolidated Communications, Frontier Communications and Windstream Communications have received $86 million from a federal program to bring internet service to 170,355 rural homes and businesses. The report says even those who get the higher speed service will be at a slower than speed the state considers to be the minimum.
“Minnesota has set ambitious broadband speed goals that position our communities for future success,” said Bernadine Joselyn, director of public policy and engagement at Blandin.
Joselyn said that public officials need to understand that federal, state and local funds all are needed to build adequate broadband networks. Doing otherwise, she said, “will hold rural communities back from reaching the potential they imagine for themselves.”
The Register-Herald suggests that West Virginia look at the report that Bill Coleman and I wrote last fall (Measuring Impact of Broadband in Five Minnesota Communities) to make plans for their broadband future…
With growing talk and debate on how to expand broadband in the Mountain State, leaders might want to look to the Land of 10,000 Lakes for a path forward.
A recent study published by the Blandin Foundation and completed by Treacy Information Services and Community Technology Advisors, “Measuring Impact of Broadband in 5 Rural MN Communities” takes a look at the efforts in a variety of rural counties spread throughout Minnesota and how those efforts have paid off.
The demographic similarities between Beckley and southern West Virginia with one county in the study are striking.
Using formulas to predict future values, gathering community data and host community interviews, researchers with the study traveled to Beltrami, Crow Wing, Goodhue, Lake and Sibley counties to get an on-the-ground perspective of the issues.
The report goes on to specifically compare the Minnesota communities with specific West Virginian communities.
NBC recently wrote about the impact of broadband in rural America. They make the point that with better broadband, rural communities can see greater economic impact and they use Lake County as the example…
A contractor building high-end houses in Minneapolis swung by Greg Hull’s sawmill on Friday, a timber operation located in deeply rural Lake County, Minnesota. The builder had seen Hull’s website and driven nearly 250 miles to the mill to inspect Hull’s high-end lumber as potential building material for his homes.
These days that’s not unusual. In the past year-and-a-half, Hull has seen orders balloon and interest grow, and a significant factor is his recent ability to gain access to high-speed internet. That’s made a huge difference for the saw mill, located at the end of a power line in an area that knows only gravel roads and limited cellphone coverage.
“Before, if you wanted to download or do anything on the internet, back when it was a phone line system, you couldn’t do anything,” said Hull, who lives and works on 100 acres of Minnesota woodland. “I had to go to the library or hire someone to do stuff, but now we can do it all. We have an improved website. It’s made the whole internet presence a lot more viable, which has in turn opened the exposure.”
That’s something largely new to Lake County, an area that covers 3,000 square miles and stretches from the shores of Lake Superior to the Canadian border. About 10,000 people call this area home. But local leaders there decided they needed high-speed internet, and after nearly eight years and the investment of more than $80 million — much of it coming from the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (also known as former President Barack Obama’s stimulus bill) — access to the internet is beginning to boost the local economy.
That could mean a long-term impact of tens of millions of dollars in household economic benefit and residential real estate value, a report by the Blandin Foundation claimed.
The economic upside of internet access is being pushed by rural broadband advocates across the country who say that there isn’t enough being done to connect rural communities. Building out the necessary infrastructure, they argue, could function as an economic and informational driver for some of the country’s most cash-strapped regions.
Using data from the 2016 American Community Survey (ACS), released in September 2017 by the U.S. Census Bureau, NDIA ranked all 185 U.S. cities with more than 50,000 households by the total percentage of each city’s households lacking fixed broadband internet subscriptions. Note that this data is not an indication of the availability of home broadband service, but rather of the extent to which households are actually connected to it.
Only St Paul and Minneapolis show up on the list (with more than 50,000 households). Here’s how they ranked:
- St Paul ranks 74 with 32.91 percent without fixed broadband
- Minneapolis ranks 120 with 27.99 percent without fixed broadband
It’s a little counter intuitive since they’re looking at worst cities – the lower the ranking, the better. We have room for improvement.
The survey, which was conducted in November 2017, reveals new contours of Americans’ Internet use. In 2017, more households had a mobile data plan than wired broadband service. Additionally, for the first time since NTIA began tracking use of different types of computing devices, tablets were more popular than desktop computers among Americans, and the number of people who used multiple types of devices also increased substantially. The data show that 78 percent of Americans ages 3 and older used the Internet as of November 2017, compared with 75 percent in July 2015, when our previous survey was conducted. This increase of 13.5 million users was driven by increased adoption among low-income families, seniors, African Americans, Hispanics, and other groups that have been less likely to go online.
Americans are continuing to increase the number of devices they use. The proportion of people using at least two different types of devices increased from 52 percent in 2013 to 57 percent in 2015 and then 62 percent in 2017. The use of three or more different device types also increased substantially, from 32 percent in 2013 to 37 percent in 2015 and then 42 percent in 2017.
The information on mobile use rings true in a recent article from the Tech Advocate that explores the down side of mobile-only access…
Although nine out of 10 low-income families have Internet access at home, most are underconnected: that is, they have “mobile-only” access – they are able to connect to the Internet only through a smart device, such as a tablet or a smartphone.
A recent report, “Opportunity for all? Technology and learning in low income families,” shows that one-quarter of those earning below the median income and one-third of those living below poverty level accessed the Internet only through their mobile devices.
This leads to limited access: A third of families with mobile-only access quickly hit the data limits on their mobile phone plans and about a quarter have their phone service cut off for lack of payment.
They may have some access, but access is still an issue – both access to broadband and a device…
One-fifth of families who access the Internet only through their mobile devices say too many family members have to share one device. This means that the amount of time each individual has to access the Internet is limited.
This can be a barrier to learning for young people. It can limit their access to resources to complete their homework, as well as create barriers for other learning. Thirty-five percent of youth who have mobile-only access look online for information about things they are interested in. But this goes up to 52 percent when young people have access to an Internet-connected computer.
It was fun to talk to Tim Marema from the Daily Yonder in Austin (Texas) after presenting with Bernadine Joselyn on the Case Studies Measuring the Impact of Broadband in Five Minnesota Communities – which I worked on with Bill Coleman. Then it was funny to see that interview in the Daily Yonder yesterday.
One question I really liked was sort – why do the study?
Marema: What interested me in this report is that someone could look at this for their own community and, in a rough and ready way, come up with a back-of-the-envelope estimate on what the public return on investment might be in high-speed fiber-to-the-home. Are the methods you used useful to other communities that are looking at broadband investment?
Treacy: I think it would be … Because all of a sudden if you’re having a conversation about how much tax money are we willing to put into a solution, well that factors in. I mean if it’s going to increase taxes by only $100 a year, and you know that you’re going to see an increase in value on your home, and an increase in economic benefit of $1,850 [on average for each house], well that $100 seems pretty minor.
We’re looking at helping people do that back on the envelope math at the broadband conference this fall. (That’s still in development.) I do hope people are able to use the formulas to figure out ROI for the community and household.