Rural students need broadband to prepare for college like suburban and urban peers

The Chronicle of Higher Education newsletter recently included an article by Goldie Blumenstyk  on rural college preparedness and broadband. They set out the problem…

A report on the state of rural education came out last week, asserting that some schools and places “face nothing less than an emergency in the education and well-being of children.”

Part of that emergency is the low level of “college readiness” in many of these rural districts, which enroll nearly one in five public-school students in the United States.

They had me at “emergency.”

And places broadband in the middle of the equation…

For matters like college preparation, one of the biggest obstacles that students still face is a lack of ready and reliable broadband access to the internet. In urban areas, that’s often an issue of cost. In rural areas, it’s often actual access as well. “It’s a huge deal right now,” said Klein, noting that for tests like the SAT and ACT, “a lot of the prep tools are online.”

As it happens, Klein spoke to me this week from San Diego, where he was attending the annual meeting of the Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities, where he heard a presentation on a creative broadband-access project sponsored by the extension service at Oklahoma State University. It gave portable Wi-Fi-hotspot devices to local libraries, which then offered them to patrons for checkout.

OK, broadband is a start. The bigger question is: Even if rural students are college-ready, will there be college-level jobs waiting for them back home when they graduate? Clearly, colleges aren’t the only organizations that have a role here. But certainly they can play a part. They can do more to ensure that high-school students understand the ways a college education can be used in rural settings. As Klein noted, many agricultural industries today rely on people with knowledge of chemistry and GIS mapping skills, for example. “Those are some serious college-level tools,” he said.

I know there are university leaders out there right now pondering the question of how their institutions can be more relevant in their rural communities. (I had a long conversation on that topic with one of them just last week.) And Klein told me he hoped that the new report “excites some strategies.” So I expect this to be an issue that I and my colleagues continue to mine in the months to come.

I think a key here is helping students and local businesses understand the power of broadband. We don’t know what we don’t know and in a world where broadband is limited it can feel like a waste of time to learn how to make use of it. Why build demand when supply is already low? Unfortunately that does leave some areas behind. Whereas an influx of students who know the hometown and its industry return from school with some innovative ideas – that might build demand and a buzz for getting better broadband.

Smart Rural Community Grant – deadline Dec 31, 2019

Rural Health Info Hub has info on a Smart Rural Community Grant…

The Smart Rural Community Grant provides funding to support the development and implementation of innovative broadband-enabled solutions to support rural commerce, healthcare, public safety, economic development, education, energy, and other community-oriented initiatives.

Eligibility
Telco members of the National Telecommunications Cooperative Association are eligible to apply.
Amount
Up to $5,000.
Application Process

Links to application instructions and frequently asked questions are available on the program website.

Completed applications should be mailed to:

NTCA – The Rural Broadband Association
Smart Rural Community Grant
4121 Wilson Blvd., Suite 1000
Arlington, VA 22203

Applications may also be emailed to smartrural@ntca.org; however, an original signed copy must also be mailed in and postmarked by the deadline date. [Update Nov 11: deadline moved to Dec 31]

Computer and Tech Skills Top Rural Americans’ List of Training Needed to Find a Better Job

From the Internet Innovation Alliance

This statistic shows rural Americans’ views on which skills or trainings are needed to keep or find a better job in their community in 2018. During the survey, 25 percent of respondents said that they believe they need computer and technical skills trainings to keep or find a better job in their community.

New Video: From Crops to Co-ops: Small Towns Want Better Internet!

The Community Network folks from the Institute of Local Self Reliance have gone into animation…

In rural communities, large companies often won’t invest in high-quality Internet network infrastructure due to the lack of population density. Increasingly, rural electric and communications cooperatives are filling the void and providing the Internet access small towns and surrounding areas need. In order to illustrate the challenges facing these small rural towns, we’ve developed a series of videos titled, “From Crops to Co-ops: Small Towns Want Better Internet!”

The video certainly has a point of view – but I have to admit that I’ve had people email me with similar stories and complaints from communities without an invested provider.

Broadband access tough to get on farms according to the United Soybean Board

Progressive Farmer reports on the state of broadband on farms based on a survey of 2000 farmers by the United Soybean Board. I’ve compiled the statistics they report into bullet points:

  • 60 percent of farmers say they don’t have enough internet connectivity to run their businesses
  • 59 percent of farmers that participated in the study said they want to incorporate more data into their operations
  • 78 percent of farmers don’t have a choice in internet service providers
  • 40 percent of farmers have a fixed internet connection, while others rely on satellite connections.
  • More than 90 percent access the internet on their smartphones, which they say is the most reliable.

Why do they want broadband?

  • 37 percent wanted to increase their use of data to make better decisions
  • 19 percent want to use it to improve their efficiency
  • 10 percent cited cost savings

New study correlates lack of broadband to lack of health insurance

A Communicating for America press release reports…

Communicating for America (CA), a rural advocacy organization, has released a new study that correlates the lack of high-speed internet to the lack of health insurance coverage and access to health care. The survey, conducted in September 2019, asked nearly 500 individuals whether having the ability to connect to broadband internet in their local area affected the way they engage with the health care system.

Of those surveyed, 39% in urban and semi-urban areas said they had high-speed internet. The number dropped to 21% in rural areas. The study’s findings went on to show people without high-speed internet were significantly less likely to have health insurance (61% had coverage) compared to individuals that have broadband internet (88%). A similar disparity was shown in health care systems. Of those without broadband internet, only 5% have used low-cost telemedicine for medical treatment, whereas 22% of individuals with high-speed internet have used telemedicine in the past. In addition:

  • People without access to broadband internet are significantly less likely to use online medical records (29%) than people who have broadband internet (59%).
  • People without access to broadband internet are significantly less likely to schedule appointments online (17%) than people who do have broadband internet (36%).

I don’t know much about Communicating for America. They are based in Fergus Falls. Their mission is to promote health, well-being and the advancement of all self-employed Americans and small business owners by utilizing our acquired experience in serving rural Americans. You can find the full report online.

The report doesn’t specify what “broadband” is but 39 percent sub/urban access versus 21 percent indicate a high bar definition. (24 percent of MN has access to a Gig.)  And 500 participants isn’t a huge portion – but the results are interesting.

Broadband on Public Radio – Improving Rural Areas

I thought I heard this on the radio last week – Inside The Movement To Improve Access To High-Speed Internet In Rural Areas. I’m glad that Benton shared the link to the archive. It’s a 4-minute story about getting broadband to small towns in Texas.

The answer in the town they visited is an Electric Cooperative, who had this to say…

It’s not about making money. You’re not doing this to make money. You’re doing this to allow your communities to survive and to be here 20 years from now.

It sounds a lot like some rural Minnesota towns, although this story mentions cowboys a lot more.