Turns out broadband at speeds of 25/3 is too slow for business

Coming as a surprise to no one who uses the Internet, the US Government Accountability Office reports that broadband at 25 Mbps down and 3 up is likely too slow for business…

In a 2021 report, GAO found that some small businesses lack access to broadband, but may benefit from federal programs that fund deployment in rural areas. A nationally representative survey by Amazon and the U.S. Chamber Technology Engagement Center found approximately 20 percent of rural small businesses were not using broadband, with about 5 percent using a dial up connection. Small businesses likely benefit from the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) and the Department of Agriculture (USDA) Rural Utilities Service’s (RUS) funding to expand broadband deployment. For example, at the time of the 2021 report, FCC had awarded $19.7 billion since 2014 through components of its high-cost programs, and estimated it had served 9.1 million business and residence locations. Both FCC and USDA have also helped increase broadband speeds in rural areas. For example, USDA’s rural broadband deployment program, ReConnect, is mostly funding projects that propose to build fiber, which is generally associated with the fastest speeds available.

Much of the literature GAO reviewed suggests that FCC’s current broadband minimum benchmark speeds—25 megabits per second (Mbps) for downloading and 3 Mbps for uploading—are likely too slow to meet many small business speed needs. For example, a 2019 USDA report stated that as technology advances and volumes of data needed to manage agriculture production grow, speeds above of 25/3 Mbps will likely be needed. In July 2022, the FCC Chairwoman announced a proposal to increase the benchmark to 100 Mbps for download and 20 Mbps for upload.

Small Business Administration (SBA) officials told GAO that their agency supports broadband access for small businesses, especially for those in rural areas, through partnerships with organizations and federal agencies. For example, SBA partners with national organizations that offer technical assistance and training to small businesses on a variety of topics, including how to use broadband to support their business.

I recognize that it’s important to do the research to provide a point, but it feels like they should be looking at 100/20 or 100/100 not 25/3. Often the research impacts funding and funding is more forward-looking than 25/3.

Turns out Affordable Connectivity Program subscribers are power broadband users!

Telecompetitor reports

Households participating in the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP) are using more broadband in comparison with the broader population of homes, according to OpenVault Broadband Insights (OVBI).

The ACP was launched by the FCC in January. It provides eligible households monthly discounts of as much as $30 on broadband subscriptions. The discounts are as much as $75 on Tribal lands.

“Early indications suggest these participants have a healthy appetite for broadband, driving significantly higher usage patterns in comparison with the average subscriber,” according to the report. “With close to one-fourth (23.8%) of ACP participants qualifying as power users, the impact of an expanding ACP subscriber base has significant implications for broadband traffic, particularly in the last mile.”

The second quarter report from the firm traced heavy usage by ACP households during the second quarter of the year:

  • ACP participants’ average usage of 654 GB per month was 33.3% higher than the average of 490.7 GB for all subscribers.
  • ACP participants’ median usage of 499.3 GB per month was almost 60% higher than the median of 313.9 GB per month for all subscribers.
  • ACP households were 36% more likely to be power users of 1 TB or more, and 52% more likely to be super power users of 2 TB or more.

The second quarter report also found that usage for subscribers on usage-based billing (UBB) is growing more quickly than usage for subscribers on flat rate billing (FRB) plans. During the second quarter, usage by UBB subscribers grew 20.6% year-over-year to 310.7 GB while usage by FRB subscribers grew 8.1% to 322 GB.

For so long survey came back saying there were two main reasons people didn’t get broadband at home – cost and not interested. These stats put those answers in perspective. It’s easy to say you don’t have an interest in something you can’t afford because it’s easier to not want for something you can’t afford and it can feel like a waste of time to look into something you can’t afford. But it seems folks are making up for lost time!

Telehealth saved lives of patients with opioid addiction

The Voice of Alexandria reports

Telehealth flourished during the pandemic, and now a new study shows it saved lives: The practice meant more people struggling with opioid addiction stayed in treatment longer and thereby lowered their risk of dying from an overdose.

For the study, researchers analyzed data among nearly 176,000 Medicare beneficiaries from September 2018 to February 2021. The analysis looked at telehealth services, medications for opioid use disorder, and medically treated overdoses among patients starting a new round of care before the pandemic compared to those during the pandemic.

More info

What did the study find? Patients in the pandemic group were more likely to receive telehealth services (19.6% versus 0.6%) and were more likely to receive medications for opioid use disorder (12.6% versus 10.8%). The findings were published online Aug. 31 in JAMA Psychiatry.

Even better than that, using telehealth services was linked to better adherence to medications, as well as a lower risk of having to be treated for an overdose, the investigators found.

“The expansion of telehealth services for people with substance use disorders during the pandemic has helped to address barriers to accessing medical care for addiction throughout the country that have long existed,” according to senior study author Dr. Wilson Compton, deputy director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA).

Digital Divide Index show readiness for impacts of COVID quarantines: Most MN counties ready but not all

Back in 2017, Roberto Gallardo was one of the keynote speaker at a Minnesota Broadband conference. He found a way to formulate a Digital Divide Index for each county in Minnesota based on a range of data point especially organized in two categories broadband adoption/infrastructure and socioeconomic factors. He’s done it again looking at county-level data across the United States. The map below will give you an idea of how Minnesota compares. (The brighter the color, the brighter the digital equity outlook.)

We can also see a marked urban/rural divide as he points out…

These groups were then utilized to analyze a host of other variables to better understand this issue. Figure 1 shows a map of U.S. counties by DDI groups. Of the 1,031 counties with a low digital divide, 747 or 72% were considered urban (population living in urban areas 2 was more than 50%). On the other hand, of the 1,063 counties with a high digital divide, only 187 or 17.5% were urban.

Roberto looks at a number of aspects that touch on the digital divide; one that struck me was workforce situations – especially given that the data used was from 2020. It really highlights the divide between those who were ready, willing and able to work online during the early stage of the pandemic and those who weren’t.

Digital divide may not be the only issue in these areas but it’s definitely an exacerbating factor…

The digital divide is holding back counties from participating fully in the digital economy. Again, it is not clear if this would have been the case regardless of the digital divide, but nonetheless it is placing communities at a disadvantage. As shown, counties with a high digital divide lost jobs between 2010 and 2020 while counties with a low digital divide saw an 11 percent increase. Likewise, the share of occupations requiring high digital skills was larger in counties with a low digital divide. Lastly, microbusiness density and activity were also lower in counties with a high digital divide. However, regarding microbusiness activity, the issue seems to be more about sophisticated online presence rather than infrastructure and number of businesses online.

Wondering how your county did – check the list below. Only two counties were in the danger area: Aitkin and Mahnomen. Looking at how they rank in terms of access, Aitkin 79 and Mahnomen is 61.

Name  
Aitkin County High
Anoka County Low
Becker County Low
Beltrami County Low
Benton County Low
Big Stone County Moderate
Blue Earth County Low
Brown County Low
Carlton County Moderate
Carver County Low
Cass County Moderate
Chippewa County Moderate
Chisago County Low
Clay County Low
Clearwater County Moderate
Cook County Moderate
Cottonwood County Moderate
Crow Wing County Low
Dakota County Low
Dodge County Low
Douglas County Low
Faribault County Moderate
Fillmore County Low
Freeborn County Moderate
Goodhue County Low
Grant County Moderate
Hennepin County Low
Houston County Low
Hubbard County Low
Isanti County Low
Itasca County Moderate
Jackson County Low
Kanabec County Moderate
Kandiyohi County Low
Kittson County Moderate
Koochiching County Moderate
Lac qui Parle County Moderate
Lake County Moderate
Lake of the Woods County Moderate
Le Sueur County Low
Lincoln County Moderate
Lyon County Low
Mahnomen County High
Marshall County Moderate
Martin County Moderate
McLeod County Low
Meeker County Low
Mille Lacs County Moderate
Morrison County Moderate
Mower County Moderate
Murray County Moderate
Nicollet County Low
Nobles County Moderate
Norman County Moderate
Olmsted County Low
Otter Tail County Moderate
Pennington County Low
Pine County Moderate
Pipestone County Moderate
Polk County Low
Pope County Moderate
Ramsey County Low
Red Lake County Moderate
Redwood County Moderate
Renville County Moderate
Rice County Low
Rock County Low
Roseau County Low
Scott County Low
Sherburne County Low
Sibley County Low
St. Louis County Moderate
Stearns County Low
Steele County Low
Stevens County Low
Swift County Moderate
Todd County Moderate
Traverse County Moderate
Wabasha County Low
Wadena County Moderate
Waseca County Low
Washington County Low
Watonwan County Moderate
Wilkin County Moderate
Winona County Low
Wright County Low
Yellow Medicine County Moderate

Globally fiber is growing faster than other mode of broadband

IIA reports

Fiber is winning the broadband war. For the first time in 2021, high-speed fiber internet surpassed cable to become the primary fixed broadband technology across the OECD’s 38 member countries, according to recently released OECD data. Fiber broadband now constitutes more than one-third (34.9%) of fixed broadband subscriptions.

Fiber subscriptions increased by 18.6% in 2021 (to reach 34.9%) to overtake cable, now at 32.4% of fixed broadband subscriptions, and DSL at 27% and falling.

In 13 OECD countries, the share of fiber is now at 50% or above: Chile, Finland, Luxembourg, New Zealand, Norway, and Portugal, and above 70% in Iceland, Japan, Korea, Latvia, Lithuania, Spain and Sweden. In the United States, the share of fiber among fixed broadband connections reached 21.8% in 2021, climbing from 16.4% in 2020.

Access to telehealth is a digital equity issue

I’ve been seeing an increase in articles on telehealth these days and they usually report that access to technology increases comfort and use of telehealth and that leads to easier access to healthcare – for doctor and patient. Rheumatology Advisor reports

For patients to participate in telehealth encounters, they have to use a number of proprietary, health system-specific portals and platforms. That can be challenging for many older adults and minority groups. Effective virtual care depends on digital fluency, meaning they need to be able to engage in all aspects of digital technologies, from accessing the internet to navigating telehealth applications and performing basic troubleshooting. Many people cannot do this, creating significant barriers to care and telehealth disparities for a large segment of the population.

Boston researchers say the technology has the potential to reduce health disparities, but it also is exacerbating structural inequities. “Telehealth is here to stay, and has the potential to actually improve care outcomes, enhance the patient experience, reduce costs, and address health care inequities,” said Rebecca G. Mishuris, MD, MPH, an assistant professor of medicine at Boston University School of Medicine and Chief Medical Information Officer of the Boston Medical Center Health System in Massachusetts. “This, of course, will only be realized if we can address equity in engagement with telehealth, and fully incorporate it into a holistic care delivery model that employs both virtual and in-person care.”

Some of the numbers…

At her institution, which is a safety net hospital, 21% of Black/African American patients, 20% of Hispanic/Latino patients, and 22% of White patients reported lacking access to a connected device with a camera or microphone. The study on telehealth disparities, published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine, also showed that 67% of White patients opted to schedule their telehealth visits by video compared with only 60% of Black and Latino patients.

Telehealth visits a boon to vets with opioid addiction

It’s hard to compare the last two years with anything before, given the impact of COVID but even given that difference (or maybe because of it) the stats on veterans in recovery and their use of technology. Southern Minn reports

There are many obstacles to opioid addiction treatment, but a new study shows one that one outgrowth of the COVID pandemic — telehealth — is enabling more U.S. veterans to get help.

Researchers examined care given to vets before and after a transition to telehealth visits in early 2020 for treatment of their opioid use disorder. Telehealth for patients receiving the prescription drug buphrenorphine to treat opioid dependence was relatively new in the Veterans Affairs health system before the pandemic, said lead author Dr. Allison Lin.

“The rapid switch to virtual visits for most patients kept people from dropping out of care, and telephone visits [also] played a key role,” said Lin, an addiction psychiatrist at the Ann Arbor VA in Michigan and investigator at the VA Center for Clinical Management Research.

In 2020, phone appointments significantly outnumbered video and in-person visits, the study found. Even in early 2021, phone visits made up 50% of monthly visits for vets using buprenorphine; video visits, 32%; and in-person care, 17%.

Compared to March 2019, on a monthly basis there was a 14% increase in number of vets receiving buphrenorphine treatment in February of last year. Over that same period, 6% fewer vets overall received any kind of addiction treatment.

Research shows telehealth helps with prenatal and maternal care

The Grand Rapids Herald (via HealthDay News) reports

Researchers from Oregon Health & Science University reviewed 28 randomized clinical trials and 14 observational studies that included more than 44,000 women. The goal was to determine the effectiveness and any harms of telehealth strategies for maternal health care.

Many of the telehealth strategies included were used to treat postpartum depression or to monitor diabetes or high blood pressure during pregnancy. They also served as an alternative to general maternity care for low-risk pregnancies.

Researchers found these appointments resulted in mostly similar, or sometimes better, outcomes compared with in-person care.

The authors said this may mean that telehealth can be a supplement to usual care for postpartum depression. Telehealth interventions were more likely to improve mood symptoms in the short term compared to in-person care alone, they said, though the effects might not be sustained.

What a gift to not have to go into the doctor’s office for every prenatal visit! Less time off work, or for those of us with a few kids, less taking time off work to bundle up a baby for a routine visit to check out the baby-to-be. And that’s coming from someone with only a 10 minute drive to the doctor’s office. The caveat of course is that sufficient broadband is required.

The Roadmap to Telehealth Efficacy – broadband is essential to good health

It was amazing, and lifesaving, to see how quickly healthcare could move online during the pandemic. Healthcare facilities stepped up their game by bringing in the technology, patients stepped by learning how to use it and government stepped up by relaxing rules on reimbursement and licensure. To keep up the momentum we must continue to have engagement from all three players – and the one that seems most precarious is the relaxed rules.

The folks at Brookings recognized this and came up with a report that makes recommendations to help continue use and growth of telehealth…

  1. Federal and state governments must continue telehealth availability and use in a post-pandemic environment through codifying its use, especially in legislation.
  2. Modality neutrality must become a standard practice to adequately address digital disparities, and ensure full use of remote health care.
  3. The U.S. must adopt a federal privacy standard to ensure patient/ provider confidentiality and reduce risks to data
  4. The larger health care community must understand that they, too, are part of efforts to close the national digital divide through training, device availabilities, and online consumer engagement.
  5. States and localities must prioritize telehealth in their broadband plan and include local stakeholders.
  6. Telehealth should be incorporated in value-based payment initiatives.
  7. The incorporation of AI into telehealth must prioritize equity and fairness.

I think it’s helpful for those of us outside of healthcare and/or policy field to see all that is required to make or sustain such a social shift in how we do things. But it’s really the fourth and fifth points that will relate to most readers. Access to healthcare is a compelling reason to strive for better broadband, especially in areas where physical healthcare facilities are not nearby. Remember to invite healthcare folks to your broadband planning meetings and remember to include telehealth training into your digital equity efforts.

MN County digital equity related rankings: education, computer ownership, broadband subscriber and speed.

A week (or so) ago, I mentioned Microsoft’s searchable digital equity maps. They track how people are access the Microsoft resources and combine that with demographic data from various sources. In the past I have used Office of Broadband Development data to rank counties by broadband availability. The equity ranking looks more at who is using the broadband available and what roadblocks might be in a given county to encourage more users. I am going to be using this data to dive into each county but for now I’m look at the whole state and ranking of:

  • Counties with the lowest percentage of adults (25+) without a high school degree
  • Counties with the lowest percentage of homes without a computer
  • Counties with lowest percentage households not using broadband
  • Counties by lowest percentage of non-users based on broadband speeds

Side notes: the maps are built on census tracts and each census tract is assigned a digital inequity index value. In other words, you can track which part of your county scores lowest (which is a good thing) in inequity and which is highest but those ranking aren’t available by county. That’s helpful when you’re on the frontlines. The map to the right shows the Digital Equity Index – the darker the color, the better an area (census track) is doing with Digital Equity. Also – the Microsoft maps has other demographics you can sort by (poverty level, disability status, income…) to help you dig into your assets and challenges.

People talk about digital equity like a three-legged stool. You need affordable access to broadband, a device and the skills to use them. The tables below might help you determine which of the three legs need attention in your county.

  • Low high school degree rate? Maybe need training or to partner with workforce training and the schools?
  • Low computer ownership? Look for a partner to distribute low cost computers. Or give classes on how to buy a computer.
  • Low broadband use? Maybe you need better availability. (Previous rankings might help confirm lack of access.) Or maybe it’s an affordability issue. Then you might connect residents with info on the Affordable Connectivity Program.

Continue reading

Microsoft makes searchable digital equity map available online

Microsoft on the Issues reports…

We often say that you can’t fix a problem you don’t understand. Today, Microsoft is releasing a new Digital Equity Data Dashboard to help create better understanding of the economic opportunity gaps in towns, cities and neighborhoods across the United States. The new tool was developed by our Chief Data Science Officer Juan Lavista Ferres and the Microsoft AI for Good Lab, and aggregates public data from the Census Bureau, Federal Communications Commission (FCC), BroadbandNow and Microsoft’s own Broadband Usage Data. It goes census tract-by-census tract, examining 20 different indicators of digital equity – such as broadband access, usage, education and poverty rates – to create one of the most complete pictures of digital equity in these areas to date.

Access the dashboard here

2022 Student Home Internet Connectivity Study

I’m borrowing the Benton Institute for Broadband & Society excerpt of the Consortium on School Networking‘s report, the 2022 Student Home Internet Connectivity Study…

In a previous study, CoSN examined the network connectivity experience of students who participated in virtual learning due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Now that many students have returned to their school locations, CoSN wanted to see how things changed. Major findings of the 2022 Home Internet Connectivity Study include:

  1. Addressing insufficient home internet connectivity must continue to be a priority for educators and policymakers.
  2. Students experience significantly slower network speeds outside of school hours than during school hours.
  3. There remain ongoing gaps in network performance and Internet speeds at all grade levels for students connecting from outside the school.
  4. Large disparities persist among student subgroups around home connectivity, particularly by ethnicity and for socioeconomically disadvantaged students.

Digital Economy was 10 percent of GDP in 2020

The Bureau of Economic Analysis reports

This report provides an overview of updated and revised digital economy statistics for 2005–2020 as released by the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA). These statistics build on the 2005–2019 estimates released in June 2021 by incorporating new data for 2020 and revised source data for 2005–2019. The new data show in 2020, the U.S. digital economy accounted for $3.31 trillion of gross output, $2.14 trillion of value added (translating to 10.2 percent of U.S. gross domestic product (GDP)), $1.09 trillion of compensation, and 7.8 million jobs.1 Growth in price-adjusted GDP (also referred to as “chained-dollar” or “real” GDP) was 4.0 percent in 2020, greatly outpacing growth in the overall economy, which contracted –3.4 percent.2 Hardware, software, and business-to-consumer (B2C) e-commerce were the main drivers of growth in the digital economy for 2020. These new digital economy statistics suggest this area of the economy was mostly insulated from the declines seen in other areas of the economy caused by the pandemic. See BEA’s digital economy website for the detailed data tables, plus other research and papers related to this subject.

It will be interesting to compare before/after height of pandemic statistics.

Study estimates better broadband in 2020 meant $4000 more per year per American

Telecompetitor reports

Fixed broadband adoption drove 10.9% of the accumulated growth in the U.S. gross domestic product (GDP) between 2010 and 2020, according to a new economic study from Telecom Advisory Services published on the Network:On website.

More detail…

According to the analysis made by Katz and his research team, capital accumulation is the biggest contributor to GDP growth, accounting for more than half of total GDP growth between 2010 and 2020. Human capital and labor growth also were substantial contributors, accounting for a combined 21.3% of growth. But growth in broadband adoption, combined with broadband speed growth, had about the same impact as human capital and labor growth, accounting for a combined 22.4% of GDP growth.

As Katz explained at the Network:On event yesterday, the researchers used four different economic models to measure GDP growth and “we proved the point on all four models.”

The researchers also estimated that if broadband adoption and speeds had remained at the 2010 level, the 2020 U.S. GDP would have been $1.3 trillion lower, which is equivalent almost $4,000 less per year for the average American.

Being online helps learn about and access some activities for older adults in rural Minnesota

MinnPost reports

Social well-being is essential to good health. Yet, as the COVID-19 pandemic roiled the country and upended social routines, supporting social well-being became even more challenging, including in rural areas. Social well-being was impacted most directly by the need to socially distance and isolate, and many people moved some or all their social activity online. However, this proved more challenging in rural areas, where broadband connectivity is less available and devices are less omnipresent, and for older adults, who generally report lower use of online technology than their younger counterparts.

In an April, 2022 report released by AP and NORC at the University of Chicago, rural adults age 50 and older reported the lowest level of satisfaction with available social activities in their community (only 38% thought the area they lived in was doing a good job at providing social activities, compared with 52% in urban areas and 55% in suburban areas, despite the fact that older adults make up a disproportionate share of rural residents). The survey also showed that rural residents reported lower satisfaction with transportation and availability of services to help them age in their own homes, compared with their urban and suburban counterparts.

They looked at the impact of broadband access and info…

We researched social opportunities in all 60 non-metropolitan counties in Minnesota, focusing most on those geared toward older adults. We found ample opportunities, but also variation between counties. Most – but not all – counties offer some combination of social infrastructure, including public libraries, senior centers, farmer’s markets, faith-based organizations (notably mostly Christian churches), American Legions and/or VFWs, and public parks. For some, there were community arts centers and hobby groups (e.g., quiltingfitness classes, bee keepingcardsgardeningcommunity theatermovie nightsbingophotographyfishingart classeswine tastingbook clubs).

Some counties and communities made it easy to find opportunities online. For example, the Todd County website listed a variety of opportunities and social infrastructure resources in an accessible, user-friendly fashion. This is good for residents looking for new ways to connect with each other, but is also important for loved ones who live out of town and are trying to find opportunities for those they care about. Many counties also have local news sources through which activities and events can be shared, although the availability and independence of those has decreased nationally in recent years, potentially making it more difficult to share local social opportunities.

Other counties and communities were much more opaque about social opportunities for older adults. Either the opportunities don’t exist, or, more likely, they organize by word of mouth or other forums. That begs the question, who might that be leaving out? How would newcomers to communities learn about social opportunities and connections, and how can out-of-town loved ones help their family members find ways to connect?