Broadband affordability report – rural areas are paying more

Telecompetitor reports…

Nearly half of the U.S. population (45%) lacks access to a low-price wired broadband offering, according to a new broadband affordability report from BroadbandNow, the organization that maintains a detailed database of broadband offerings throughout the U.S. The research also showed that people in rural areas pay higher prices and that, ironically, people in areas with higher average income pay less for service.

One of the big findings is that rural areas – or at least areas with lower population density – pay more for broadband, as you can see from the chart below…

Other key findings from the BroadbandNow research:

  • Across the 50 states, fiber has the lowest average price per megabit per second – 48 cents, compared with 65 cents for cable and $1.53 for DSL
  • States with median household income of at least $60,000 have 78% low-priced plan coverage, on average, compared to only 37% for states with average incomes below $60,000

Survey shows that digital technology can help rural businesses

The U.S. Chamber Technology Engagement Center (commissioned by Amazon) recently did a survey of 5,300 small business owners in rural America about the economic impact of online tools and technology on their businesses. Below are the highlights of the report…

Digital technology boosts sales and reduces costs for rural small businesses: Online tools and technology help rural small businesses expand their customer base in their own community, neighboring states, and, in some cases, outside of the country as well. Online tools boost sales for nearly 55% of rural small businesses across America. In addition, online tools reduce purchasing costs of products and materials for nearly 29% of rural small businesses.

Small businesses in rural areas are slowly adopting digital tools and technology: Nearly 20% of rural small businesses in America generate the vast majority of their revenue (at least 80%) by selling their products and services online. A slightly larger share of rural small businesses, 22%, purchased at least 80% of their goods and services online.

Rural small businesses utilize digital tools and technology for sales, marketing, and operations: About one-third of rural small businesses sell their products and services through their own websites and nearly 13% sell their products and services through third-party websites. Over 58% of rural small businesses have social media accounts and nearly 36% use online advertising services. Rural small businesses also use online tools for operational tasks such as business banking, accounting, virtual meetings and conference calls, and cloud computing.
Greater use of digital tools and technology could unlock potential in rural small businesses across the country.

Digital technology created opportunities for rural small businesses in the past three years: Digital tools and technology boosted gross sales of rural small businesses by 17.2% during the past three years, the equivalent of $69.8 billion per year. The additional gross sales contributed $38.7 billion to U.S. GDP per year and created 296,288 jobs (full-time equivalent) with $12.1 billion in wages per year. The magnitude of the economic benefits is equivalent to the size of the economy of Vermont or Wyoming.

The economic benefits of digital technologies have not been fully realized in rural areas: If rural small businesses had better adopted online tools and technology, their gross sales would have increased by an additional 18.3% in the past three years, the equivalent of $74.4 billion per year. Consequently, rural small businesses would have added another $41.3 billion to U.S. GDP per year and created an additional 316,605 jobs with $13.0 billion wages per year. These unrealized economic benefits are equivalent to 0.2% of GDP and over 5% of the number of unemployed people in the U.S. labor force.

With greater adoption of digital tools and technology, the potential economic benefits in rural areas are far reaching: If rural small businesses better adopt online tools and technology, their gross sales could increase by an additional 20.8% during the next three years, the equivalent of $84.5 billion per year. This increase in sales could contribute an additional $46.9 billion value added to U.S. GDP per year and create 360,054 jobs with $14.8 billion wages per year. By unlocking the digital potential of rural small businesses, the U.S. GDP would gain an additional 0.2% per year and reduce the number of unemployed people by nearly 6%.

Broadband rates and maps for Minnesota tribal areas – now available!

Congrats to the Office of Broadband Development for getting broadband maps and rates for tribal nations in Minnesota. These areas can be hard to define and I know these numbers are intended as a high-level estimate, but when you can’t put your arms around access on tribal areas, it’s difficult to help or even discuss what’s happening. With these new maps and numbers we can move forward with the conversation.

Some tribes (Red Lake) are rocking it and some (Bois Forte) need help. And just like the Counties, some are doing well in terms of reaching the 2022 Minnesota speed goals of 25 Mbps up and 3 down (25/3) but they are not on their way to getting to the 2026 speed goals of 100/20. In the upcoming weeks, I will work on tribal nation profiles, similar to the county profiles I have done in the past. But for now I’m please to share links to the maps:

And share the data (in Excel) and pasted below. (I expect the formatting of the info will be wonky – that’s the nature of pasting a table into WordPress – check out the Excel file for better formatting.)

Name Households (2010 estimate) Percent Fixed, Non-Mobile Broadband (25/3) Percent Broadband (100/20) Percent Wireline Broadband (25/3) Percent Wireline Broadband (100M/20M)
Bois Forte Reservation 294 20.12 0.00 20.12 0.00
Fond du Lac Off-Reservation Trust Land 0 0.00 0.00 0.00 0.00
Fond du Lac Reservation 1530 30.96 19.50 29.99 19.50
Grand Portage Off-Reservation Trust Land 0 0.00 0.00 0.00 0.00
Grand Portage Reservation 257 94.24 94.24 94.24 94.24
Ho-Chunk Nation Off-Reservation Trust Land 0 0.00 0.00 0.00 0.00
Leech Lake Off-Reservation Trust Land 0 0.00 0.00 0.00 0.00
Leech Lake Reservation 3930 91.68 65.01 91.68 65.01
Lower Sioux Indian Community 134 100.00 94.07 77.12 68.44
Mille Lacs Off-Reservation Trust Land 41 0.00 0.00 0.00 0.00
Mille Lacs Reservation 1835 60.51 60.46 61.12 61.07
Minnesota Chippewa Trust Land 22 4.55 0.00 4.55 0.00
Prairie Island Indian Community 62 100.00 50.59 50.16 50.16
Prairie Island Off-Reservation Trust Land 20 100.00 90.95 90.95 90.95
Red Lake Reservation 1757 99.81 99.81 99.81 99.81
Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community 116 50.00 50.00 44.36 31.98
Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Off-Reservation Trust Land 189 88.00 66.15 79.59 48.48
Upper Sioux Community 48 100.00 52.48 0.00 0.00
Upper Sioux Off-Reservation Trust Land 1 100.00 0.00 0.00 0.00
White Earth Off-Reservation Trust Land 11 100.00 100.00 100.00 100.00
White Earth Reservation 3529 84.67 13.57 84.67 13.57

ACT highlights technology-based, learning disparities between rural/urban students

A recent paper from ACT reports…

High school students in rural parts of the U.S. face significant challenges accessing technology that may adversely affect their learning — access that students in more populated parts of the country and policymakers may take for granted, according to surveys of students who took the national ACT® test. However, ACT’s experts also suggest stakeholders can take important steps that can help every student succeed, no matter where he or she lives.

The report, “Rural Students: Technology, Coursework and Extracurricular Activities ,” found that rural students were less likely than non-rural students to claim that their home internet access was “great” (36 percent vs. 46 percent).

Similarly, rural students were almost twice as likely as non-rural students to state that their internet access was “unpredictable” (16 percent vs. 9 percent). At school, however, there were no substantive differences in reported internet quality between rural and non-rural students.

Rural and non-rural students also had differing access to devices both at school and at home. Notably, rural students reported somewhat less access to a laptop or desktop computer at home compared to non-rural students (82 percent vs. 87 percent).

Given that rural students lack access to rigorous coursework, this lack of technological access may impede their course-taking success and their ability to participate in online courses and other opportunities for personalized learning.

It outlines the inequity in rural/urban access to education resources brought on by broadband and technology disparities. Something worth consideration for policymakers, community leaders and educators.

The ACT also makes recommendations…

1. Improve access to technology both at school and home.

The Federal E-Rate program must continue to fund access to affordable broadband internet to rural areas and completely close the gap between schools with broadband access and those without

2. Increase opportunities for rigorous course taking.

Students must have access to and be encouraged to take a minimum core curriculum of four years of English, three years of mathematics, three years of science, and three years of social studies. The survey found that students in rural areas were less likely than non-rural students to complete (or plan to complete) the ACT-recommended core curriculum (76 percent vs. 81 percent).

3. Expand opportunities for personalized learning.

Students need the opportunity to receive personalized, student-centered learning. In the case of the rural students in the survey, personalized learning could help provide greater access to advanced coursework.

NTIA Partners with MN and 7 other states on improvements to Broadband Map

From National Telecommunications and Information Administration

Today, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) announced that it is collaborating with eight states to broaden and update the national broadband availability map. The eight states – California, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, North Carolina, Tennessee, Utah, and West Virginia – will contribute data and other inputs to the map.

“In order to ensure that all Americans have access to broadband, we need a more precise picture of the current services and infrastructure that are available,” said David Redl, Assistant Secretary for Communications and Information and NTIA Administrator. “NTIA’s work on an updated map, in partnership with these initial states, will help policymakers around the country make better decisions as they devise broadband expansion plans.”

The Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2018 directed NTIA to update the national broadband availability map using its previously developed state partnerships. The initial eight state partners were chosen because they reflect geographic diversity, participate in NTIA’s State Broadband Leaders Network, have active state broadband plans or programs, and were willing to contribute data that can be combined with nationwide data sources to give policymakers a deeper understanding of broadband availability.

NTIA expects to seek participation from additional states, territories and federally recognized tribes that have broadband programs or related data-collection efforts. The initial map will include available nationwide data for every state combined with state-level data from the eight states.

I can’t say for sure, but it seems like having an Office of Broadband Development helps Minnesota take advantage of opportunities like this. Luck favors the prepared.

Technology and technology skills may offset job loss due to automation

The relationship to broadband access and the following article isn’t direct but it feels like there’s a lot of overlap. A new report from the Brookings Institution indicates that many jobs will be lost to automation. And the Midwest will be pretty hard hit with its history of manufacturing and agriculture BUT Minnesota is an outlier. MinnPost reports…

South Dakota, Iowa, Wisconsin and Indiana all rank in the top 10 states for jobs with high potential for automation, according to the report. Minnesota, however, is a relative outlier. It’s ranked No. 40, which is the lowest in the region. Only Illinois, which was ranked No. 37, came close.

Part of the reason Minnesota is in better standing is the strong healthcare industry.

Technology is a game changer for the impact of automation…

Just because a job is at risk of automation, Greiner said, doesn’t mean it will simply be eliminated. Very few will be, he said. Instead, many jobs will be “augmented” by technology. The Brookings report says machines will often only substitute for certain tasks, rather than  take over every duty in a present-day job.

Here’s an example: The trucking industry has been working on that by experimenting with platooning, a practice in which semi-trucks synchronize their driving with the help of technology in order to follow each other closely on highways and save gas through drafting. Each truck still has a human driver. Minnesota’s Legislature is considering whether to legalize platooning this year.

Using technology to ease some tasks may be a good thing for businesses struggling to find workers as baby boomers retire. Minnesota currently has more than 140,000 open jobs despite an ultra-low 2.8 percent unemployment rate, a fact attributed at least in part to retiring workers.

“I’d say our department and the data tell us we’re probably going to need automation,” Greiner said. “We’re going to need it to supplement our slowing labor force growth.”

The report also says jobs involving greater automation usually, but not always, bring higher wages in part because people need different skills to operate and oversee the technology. Those higher wages, particularly in rural areas, can spark a stronger economy, which in turn can stimulate more jobs, the report says. Greiner said for that reason it’s still possible that states with a higher risk of automation may be better off in the long run compared to Minnesota.

We talk a lot about access to technology here but this is a good example of the importance of digital skills. Digital skills may help Minnesotans automate jobs on their timeline. Digital skills may lead to innovation that surpasses the hole that automation could leave in the economy. It feels like with increasing access to broadband in Minnesota and a little breathing room we might be able to get ahead of some of these changes.

Minnesota ranks top state to raise a family

This news was too good not to share. WalletHub was just named Minnesota the best place to raise a family. No surprise to me with three girls! To be fair they don’t mention broadband or internet but reading through their categories, it was easy for me to see the impact broadband would have on each:

Family Fun – OK we only ranked 13. I have a family blog that alone should rank us higher than that. (To be fair, we were more obviously fun when the girls were little.) But especially when the girls were little, broadband helped us find fun. I scanned local calendars for fun things on a regular basis – from Winter Carnivals to art openings to pumpkin carvings. You name it, if we had an afternoon off, we could find fun. Also we used the internet to see things we’d never go see. Question about the Sphinx? We’ll look it up. For some families, gaming may be an issue or feature – and Paul Bunyan has shown us how fun and profitable that can be with their annual Gaming Contest. Not for us – but it has been a ticket into finding unusual activities.

Health & Safety – Access to remote healthcare – be it doctor emails or actual video visits has been a game changer, especially as a parent. And I’m a parent in a city. I can’t imagine the time savings not bundling up kids for every sneeze when the doctor is 10 miles away. Also portals make it easy to manage regular visits and payments. Telehealth use increased seven-fold in Minnesota between 2010-2015, and use continues to grow. But it also helps with healthier lifestyles. Many of us use devices (fitbits and others) to maintain healthy habits. And of course using the internet for quick fixes for getting out splinters or getting gum out of hair is a day saver too.

Education and Child Care – My kids have used broadband for assignments starting almost in kindergarten. In Kindergarten we used it to extend learning. But by second grade one was using Khan Academy for extra math support. They have all created and uploaded videos for class assignments. All have been required to access, complete and turn in assignments online. The youngest has created (on her own) online quizlets to help her with mock trial. Broadband is all but required for basic education but it is key for extending a student’s reach beyond formal education. (Last year, Blandin hosted a webinar on broadband and the homework gap.)

Affordability – Studies show that homes with broadband see an annual economic benefit between $1,850 and $10,500. And home buyers will pay seven percent more for a home with gigabit service; people wouldn’t pay that if they didn’t think there was a return on investment in education, healthcare or fun for their families.