Lower income households means slower broadband –but providers can help bridge the gap

Fastly is working on a new series that…

examines the data behind several yet-unexplored facets of the digital divide, the people and places it impacts most greatly, and what can and should be done to close this persistent gap.

At the end of April they looked at download speed and household income…

To understand the degree to which the digital divide is affecting low-income families during the COVID-19 pandemic, we compared download speed against five median income brackets in the U.S. using 2017 tax return data by ZIP Code from the Internal Revenue Service.

The story nearly tells itself in pictures…

You can see the improvement experienced by the lowest income starting in mid-March…

The authors point out the impact of a change that Comcast made…

I would go beyond Comcast and look at the impact all of the national and local providers had in getting more people online, especially low income households. The impact is real, we just need a way to support the closing of the gap.

The authors end on a positive recommendation…

Thankfully, we can see that bridging the divide is possible. ISPs and mobile providers have the power to provide greater capacity and remove bandwidth restrictions and have done so amid this global health crisis. We are hopeful that others will follow suit, both now and in the future, as we head toward the new normal that awaits us on the other side of recovery.

Lack of broadband adds to rural vulnerability to COVID-19

Alexandria Echo Press reports that COVID-19 was slower to come to rural counties, but it’s catching up at a faster rate…

For two weeks ending April 27, rural counties saw a 125% increase in coronavirus cases (from 51 to 115 cases per 100,000 people) and a 169% increase in deaths (from 1.6 to 4.4 deaths per 100,000 people), according to that study.

During that same time period, metro counties saw a 68% increase in cases (from 195 cases per 100,000 people to 328) and a 113% increase in deaths (from 8.0 deaths per 100,000 people to 17.0).

Lack of broadband is a contributing factor…

Coronavirus is poised to hammer the rural health care system, which Henning-Smith said was stressed long before the coronavirus appeared. Since 2010, 128 rural hospitals have closed, eight of them in 2020 alone, while the virus has set many of them teetering on the edge of collapse, Henning-Smith said.

Rural health care systems also face a major shortage of healthcare workers, she said, while people living in rural areas tend to be older, with more underlying health concerns and disability, and less likely to have health insurance than their urban counterparts. Rural residents also are more likely to have less access to broadband internet, finding it difficult to work from home or order groceries online, and also be unemployed.

“Altogether, this puts rural residents at higher risk of COVID-19,” she said.

Is the internet breaking? MLab shows counties with slow down – including Minnesota

I have seen articles saying that Internet is built to withstand the increased quarantine traffic and some that say, we’ll do OK and now one that says some areas are slowing down. The Guardian reports

The Covid-19 crisis is exposing how the cracks in the US’s creaking digital infrastructure are potentially putting lives at risk, exclusive research shows.

With most of the country on lockdown and millions relying on the internet for work, healthcare, education and shopping, research by M-Lab, an open source project which monitors global internet performance, showed that internet service slowed across the country after the lockdowns.

Here’s what that looks like in the US..

And a close up on MN (blue is better than 3 Mbps upload)…

 

Minnesota doesn’t look too bad – unless of course you live in an orange area. And we are talking speeds of 25 Mbps down and 3 up, which may not be sufficient at a time when we are all working, learning and staying healthy (both via telemedicine and Netflix) online!

The FCC recognizes the problem but perhaps not the severity…

The FCC said more than 21.3 million people don’t have any internet access, though many experts think this is an undercount because the FCC’s reporting system is flawed. Broadband Now, a company which helps people find ISPs, said in a February report the number is close to 42 million. Microsoft researchers have pinned the number without access at 163 million Americans.

 

How many workers will stay remote – even after pandemic?

Internet Innovation Alliance reports…

As companies continue to grapple with coronavirus disruptions, many financial leaders are looking to shift some of their permanent workforce to remote positions as a way to create cost-savings and minimize more severe operational cuts after the crisis ends. According to a recent Gartner survey, 74% of financial leaders and CFOs said they would shift at least 5% of their previous on-site workforce to permanent remote positions after the coronavirus crisis ends and nearly a quarter said they would shift at least 20% of their on-site positions to remote work.

I have worked from home for 20 years. Sometimes I have to go to meetings or travel but the rest of my time I work from home. So to the new remote workers who may find themselves working from home after this pandemic – it’s not usually this bad. I like working from home.

I saw an interesting post from a friend who is working from home for the first time with a kindergartner also at home. She recognized that being at home and working during a pandemic, isn’t really like being a remote worker. Usually kids are at school or preschool or college. Usually there’s a delineation between day and night. Usually you aren’t competing for computers and broadband with the whole family. Usually you can go to a coffee shop if you need a break from home. On the other hand – you still only have to brush your hair when there’s a Zoom call. And there’s still the benefit for the environment of keeping some of us off the road and office space costs less, less time in traffic, quick breaks to do laundry make the weekends better. Plenty of benefits.

60 percent of US farmers don’t have adequate broadband to run their businesses

United Soybean Board reports on the status of broadband with soybean farmers. Even I was surprised at the results…

Like any business, farmers depend on a reliable broadband connection to be successful in their day-to-day operations. Unlike other businesses, farmers access the internet across acres — anywhere from their shops to the seat of their equipment in the field. Their work requires reliable internet access to use soil fertility data, yield maps, weather forecasts and autosteer. However, a study conducted by the United Soybean Board found that nearly 60% of U.S. farmers and ranchers do not believe they have adequate internet connectivity to run their businesses. Only 32% consider their office internet reliable, and 78% of farmers do not have a viable option to change service providers.1

Unreliable connectivity limits farmers in the daily tasks required to run their business. Farmers alone contribute nearly $133 billion to U.S. gross domestic product. Limited access, unreliable or slow internet connections places a heavy burden on the farms responsible for nearly $80 billion in the U.S. gross domestic product.2 The unavailability of reliable broadband directly impacts farmers, their region and the U.S. economy.

Why the Checkoff Cares

Limited internet connectivity can be detrimental to a farmer’s livelihood. A secure connection helps farmers with purchasing decisions, banking, equipment, farm improvements and much more. Without reliable internet, U.S. soybean farmers are not able to reinvest in their businesses or run them to full potential.

Key Points

  • U.S. farmers in rural America feel the impact of limited broadband connectivity, including limitations on improving farm economic and environmental sustainability and reinvesting in their businesses.
  • There is a critical need to improve rural broadband access, which has implications far beyond quality-of-life concerns. Improved internet reliability impacts the livelihood of rural communities.
  • Farmers’ needs for internet access are projected to grow. The value they bring to the U.S. economy could multiply significantly with fast, reliable broadband access.

Facts & Figures

  • Slow, unreliable internet handicaps an industry segment worth nearly $133 billion in U.S. GDP. That segment is the foundation of agriculture, food and related industries that contribute $1.05 trillion, or 5.4%, to GDP.1

  • According to Rural Broadband and the American Farmer, lack of internet access has affected 33% of farmers’ equipment purchases, and lack of rural internet impacts $13 billion in annual farm equipment purchases.1

  • Today’s farmers access the internet in the middle of their fields. There they rely on connectivity to process data such as yield and soil fertility maps, identify and treat crop and livestock problems, and find solutions to fix machinery. Farmers continue to use technology innovations such as autosteer, drones, sensors and more. With that, 67% of farmers believe it’s important to be able to transfer data wirelessly from the field.1

  • Farmers get online with multiple devices. The study found that 92% use smartphones, and 59% use tablets. In their offices, 66% use a laptop, and 58% use a desktop computer.1

  • While many farmers rely on satellite connections, 40% of farmers have a fixed internet connection.2

  • Over 50% of farmers want to incorporate more data in their operations, but slow internet speed, high costs and unreliable connections are barriers to using that data.1

Southern MN businesses concerned about access to broadband

GreenSeam surveyed members of southern Greater Minnesota business communities to get a statistically relevant glimpse of how these leaders view the economic prospects of their economies.

As you can see from the chart below, shortage of broadband is an issue….

Scanning some of the focus group discussions – I can see that people are interested and/or concerned about some technology – specifically automation and drones. People seem hopeful that automation and similar technologies will help save workforce shortages. So it seems like people are open to technology, they just need better access to it.

Addressing U of M students’ broadband needs is a top priority

The (University of) Minnesota Daily outlines the problems many students have getting online during the pandemic…

For University students heading home, broadband access across the country varies widely. State broadband maps show patchy coverage, especially in rural areas.

In a recent University survey with more than 1,000 responses, 2.5% of students said they had no internet, and 21% said their internet was only reliable sometimes, said University Associate Vice Provost for Student Success LeeAnn Melin.

Melin said addressing the basic needs of students is a top priority. With new weekly meetings addressing the COVID-19 pandemic and a transition to one-on-one remote advising, she said the colleges are doing well with supporting students. The University’s technology help page also has a list of up-to-date resources for students.

Additionally, 4.4% of survey respondents said they do not have access to a reliable computer. Melin said the University is working to lend those students computers so that there is not an associated fee that would affect their financial aid. The University will soon decide whether these programs will extend into the summer.

“How are we helping students be successful in this new world?” Melin asked.

As students move online, the same amount of internet traffic that used to happen at offices and homes has moved almost completely to residential areas since the start of the pandemic, said Brent Christensen, president and CEO of the Minnesota Telecom Alliance.

They spoke to Brent Christensen and Nathan Zacharias, a lobbyist for the Minnesota Rural Broadband Coalition about the need for greater support from the legislature to expand broadband in rural areas…

Increasing broadband access is an expensive undertaking, and other states have been modeling legislation based on Minnesota’s Border-to-Border Grant, Christensen said. The Border-to-Border Grant can provide up to 50% of broadband projects’ infrastructure costs, but many smaller telecommunications companies are still doing the work for free, Christensen said.

“I’m so proud of our members because we work in small rural towns,” Christensen said. “They’re working with their communities and identifying students and people in need.”