Key ingredient in digital readiness? Digital resourcefulness and utilization!

Roberto Gallardo has a new research report on Gauging Household Digital Readiness. I spend a ton of time focused on access – but as a librarian, I have been worried about readiness (information has morphed into digital) for decades. Access is a piece of digital readiness but as Roberto points out – it only a piece.

Here are the key findings from the report…

  • Regarding device & internet access, nonmetro respondents relied more on their smartphones and mobile data to connect to the internet compared to their metro counterparts. They also had slightly higher device performance issues as well as more extended downtime periods with their internet access. Despite these disadvantages however, they connected to the internet as frequently and with diverse devices as their metro counterparts. In the end, nonmetro did have a lower DIA score compared to metropolitan respondents.
  • Regarding digital resourcefulness and utilization, metro respondents had a slightly higher and statistically significant score but overall had similar digital resourcefulness levels as well as number and frequency of internet uses as nonmetro. On digital resourcefulness, while both metro and nonmetro respondents felt electronic devices made them more productive, a higher share of nonmetro respondents needed help setting up new electronic devices as well as finding it difficult to discern online information as trustworthy. Likewise, the share of nonmetro responses was higher compared to metro in all three statements regarding online echo chambers. On internet utilization, both metro and nonmetro households used the internet on average 11 different ways (out of 25 listed) at least once monthly. As expected, households relying more on mobile data (50 percent or more of the time over the past year) had a lower internet utilization.
  • Regarding internet benefits and impact, there is ample room for growth. A higher share of respondents saved money online compared to earning money regardless of metro status. More than four-fifths of respondents did not make money online gauged by selling, freelancing or renting. In addition, about twelve percent of respondents, regardless of metro status, saved money online regarding healthcare. Less than ten percent of respondents obtained a promotion due to online educational credentials, but nonmetro households had a higher share compared to metro. Lastly, a little more than one-fifth of respondents (metro) secured a job due to the internet over the past year, while less than fifteen percent of nonmetro did.
  • Regarding the digital readiness index score, metro households had a higher score (5.2) compared to nonmetro (4.5), leaving ample room for improvement given 10 is the highest score. More interestingly, when it comes to digital readiness a metro-nonmetro divide was not as large and surpassed by income and occupation differences.
  • Lastly, the dimension that yields more bang for the buck regarding improving digital readiness is digital resourcefulness and utilization after controlling for specific socioeconomic characteristics. On the other hand, of the three dimensions analyzed, internet benefits and impact had the lowest score. In other words, the impact of the internet on households—as measured by this study—is lagging. This implies that focusing on improving digital literacy and skills is critical to ensure the benefits of internet continue to accrue to households.

I am most excited by the final point – the focus on digital resourcefulness and utilization. Because that’s when technology changes from being a challenge to a solution. It’s like the change in grade school, when kids go from learning to read to reading to learn. A world opens up! You need to have access, you need to have devices that work – but that’s technology. A big enough check will take care of that. Resourceful and utilization is all people.

It is interesting to see what people do online based on their location…

 

Also interesting to see who saves money and who makes money online. Non-metro people seem to make less money freelancing; I wonder how much of that is attributed to Uber/Lyft. Whereas non-metro households earn more in rent. Maybe that’s Air B&B – certainly that could be true in some of Minnesota’s lake areas. Non-metro households also report greater savings with online healthcare.

Some factors I’m sure reflect the difference in rural/urban areas and some reflect the difference in people who choose to live in one or the other.

On top of  being an interesting look at what people do online I think this report does help propose some options to encourage greater use. First non-users can see how much is to be gained by moving some activities online but also digital inclusion professionals can focus on getting beyond that learning to read stage to encourage greater satisfaction and stronger desire to learn more. It reminds me of one of my favorite digital inclusion activities – the scavenger hunt. Get people to travel the city of town using online apps and other tools for prizes. Encouraging resourcefulness and utilization!

Place-sensitive distributed development – a strategy to lift up rural areas with technology

Brookings recently released a fascinating report on countering the geography of discontent. They outline and detail the economic changes to area based on uneven spread of digital technology…

However, in the 1980s, that long-standing trend began to break down as the spread of digital technology increasingly rewarded the most talent-laden clusters of skills and firms.

As the economy changed, convergence gave way to divergence, as a fortunate upper tier of big, dense metropolitan areas (the top 2 percent of U.S. communities based on measures of growth and wages) began to consistently grow faster than the median and least-prosperous cities.

Techy town flourished and smaller towns or the rural spaces between towns suffered. (There are some awesome examples of areas that bucked this trend, but on the whole we see it here in Minnesota.) This has created a deep divide in the country – not only manifesting in technology and economy…

As a result, few can now deny that the geography of America’s current economic order has brought economic and social cleavages that have spawned frightening externalities: entrenched poverty, “deaths of despair,” and deepening small-town resentment of coastal cosmopolitan elites. It is baleful realities like these that caught many politicians, academics, and journalists off guard in 2016 as they poured through post-election red-blue maps. In a very real way, the 2016 election of Donald Trump represented the revenge of the places left behind in a changing economy.

The question they post is how to balance this inequity….

Therefore, we favor a third approach to regional policy, something akin to what scholars Simona Iammarino, Andrés Rodriguez-Pose, and Michael Storper call “place-sensitive distributed development.” This approach assumes that regional equity won’t occur without economic development but that excessive imbalances between regions can jeopardize such development. Our place-sensitive strategy seeks to mitigate uneven development by ensuring economic growth occurs in a wider swath of regions.

What might place-sensitive distributed development look like in practice? To give a sense, we suggest five examples of the kinds of strategies that would help—three that focus on ensuring more regions have the assets and capabilities to flourish, and two more that suggest what specific regional development initiatives might look like. Here’s a look:

[abbreviated list]

  • Ensure businesses in lagging regions have access to capital. The pullback in small business lending following the financial crisis has hit less densely populated parts of the country particularly hard. Efforts to improve data on small business performance can help banks lower the transaction costs of extending small loans while innovations in financial technology can help create a secondary market for them and reduce risk. Boosting alternative, non-bank sources of capital, such as venture capital funding, can also help support regional economic growth.
  • Reduce gaps in broadband. Large gaps in broadband service and subscriptions have put businesses and workers in less densely populated areas at a huge disadvantage. Policy proposals should focus on connecting more people and encouraging greater subscription rates in places already endowed with broadband.
  • Identify “growth poles” that can support regional growth. While it may be inefficient to “save” every left-behind small city or rural community in the U.S., targeted federal policy aimed at strengthening 10 or so promising mid-sized centers of advanced industry activity would bring more growth to some communities adjacent to many more lagging towns and rural areas. Federal investment in these “growth poles” will put more communities on a path toward self-sustaining economic growth.
  • Help Americans move to opportunity. The federal government should expand the availability of financial support for individuals who want to make long-distance moves to places promising greater economic opportunity. At the same time, federal policy should encourage states and localities to relax zoning restrictions and construct new housing units to increase the supply of affordable housing. For those who wish to stay in their communities to live but not necessarily to work, state and local governments could provide a subsidy for workers commuting to adjacent communities.

5G will be a game changer for those who have access

Sprint has recently posted a new “5G Explainer” all about the wonders of 5G. Here are the areas they cover:

  • Latency
  • Speed
  • Coverage
  • Capacity
  • Density

The site is interesting and it will explain the technology but it doesn’t talk too much about the impact of 5G in rural areas. Here’s what they say about coverage…

Up until now, network coverage strategies were optimized for one primary use case: people with smartphones, moving around.

But in a world where every milk carton, motorcycle, park bench and parking space has a sensor and a transmitter, coverage presents a different range of challenges.

Today, users might experience places – even in cities – where the network doesn’t reach. But imagine you’re running a service that delivers parcels to moving targets – customers who are on the move. What happens when the network can’t reach your vehicles or your customers – even for a moment?

5G will rise to new coverage challenges by combining new technologies in new ways. Smaller antennae in massive arrays will make a single base station act like many. Beamforming techniques will focus data streams at specific users, tracking them as they move – even bouncing signals off walls to maintain the connection.

The bottom line: the coverage benefits 5G delivers will extend the power of the network to far more users, devices, IoT sensors and connected vehicles.

So think about what happens if your IoT implementation can manage a million more devices than your biggest competitor’s.

On the surface it’s just more sensors. But once you start capturing all that data and feeding it to your algorithm, you’ll be generating better answers to your customers problems faster than you can say ‘network effects’.

They talk about ubiquitous coverage but mention only cities when the ability to reach devices seem to have a real potential for farms too.

The impact of 5G will be amazing but only for the areas that have access. The areas that don’t have access may find themselves in a deep divide.

Farmers need better broadband to take advantage of precision ag benefits

The University of Virginia is looking at the benefits of precision agriculture…

Sitting in the cab of a combine harvester on a soybean farm in Wells, Minnesota this summer, University of Virginia assistant media studies professor Christopher Ali was amazed as he looked down at the dashboard.

Using GPS, the harvester could, in real time, map, monitor and record massive amounts of data – such as crop yield and soil moisture levels – which would let a farmer know exactly which rows required attention.

“It was the coolest thing,” Ali said. “The capabilities were just incredible.”

But those benefits are only possible where there is adequate broadband…

Unfortunately, the vast majority of farmers in the Midwest aren’t able to utilize this “precision agriculture” technology because they don’t get high-speed internet, according to Ali. He said companies don’t want to put in fiber optic cable – considered the gold standard – because of its great expense.

And public policy isn’t supporting increased broadband…

Ali said the U.S. offers $6 billion in subsidies to telecommunications companies for the purpose of installing rural broadband, but the funds aren’t making their way out to the farms.

“We’re giving CenturyLink $500 million a year for the next six years, and CenturyLink has announced that they’re not going to upgrade their network,” Ali said. “They’ll roll out what they have, which is copper wire, but they won’t upgrade to fiber and that stinks.”

But there are efforts within the cooperatives…

“Co-ops are the unsung heroes of rural broadband,” Ali said. “They don’t need the return on investment that the giant companies need because they don’t have shareholders to satisfy. They have community members to service. And I think because they don’t need a 20 percent profit margin, they’re able to take a few more risks. Wouldn’t it be great if public policy could help these co-ops leverage or mitigate some of the risk?”

The agony of rural broadband, the thrill of making it happen

This week City Pages has a nice feature on rural broadband. A good wake up for those of us in the Cities who aren’t living on the frontlines of slow Internet. They do a good job telling the stories…

Outside nearby Gibbon, Linda Kramer endured a similar fix. Her family grows corn, soybeans, and wheat, while her husband also works as a crop consultant. He’d attempt to send field data to clients, only to watch it take days to upload. So he’d find himself driving 40 miles just to deliver thumb drives.

“We weren’t being able to accomplish what people in the cities or other rural areas were able to accomplish,” Kramer says.

Their problems weren’t unique. Across hulking swaths of Minnesota, gas stations struggle to run credit cards. Counties see scant hope of nursing new businesses. And everyone worries the evacuation of their young will only accelerate. Forgive college grads who can’t see futures in places where it takes hours to load an Instagram photo.

They highlight a solution that is working in Renville and Sibley Counties…

Winthrop—population 1,399—was too small to build a high-speed fiber system on its own. So it resorted to a spirit of socialism practiced a century ago, the kind that brought electricity, phone lines, and farm cooperatives to the Minnesota backcountry.

It would seem a despairing quest. Sibley County is in the heart of Trumpland. “Out here, we’re quite conservative,” says Erickson. “When the Republican Party says something, people listen.”

Yet the resulting campaign would exhibit a savvy and insistence few lefty activists could match. It involved 10 cities and 17 townships across Renville and Sibley counties. Over 100 educational meetings spanning two years. Seventy volunteers to carry the load.

The final outcome: RS Fiber, a co-op that delivers better internet than most Twin Citians receive.

And the difference fast broadband has made…

For Jacob Rieke, it means no longer fearing for his daughters’ schooling. He can now employ all the weaponry of precision farming, saving between $5,000 and $20,000 annually on seed costs alone.

For Linda Kramer, it means getting 10 times the speed of her old service for the same price, allowing her family to be “good stewards of the land.” An ability to read the subtleties of a field prevents over-fertilizing, which has left most southwest Minnesota waterways too toxic for swimming. “The technology is really allowing people to do good things.”

RS is also fostering commerce. A new 3D printer business in Gibbon can send data-heavy files to clients. An industrial electrician in Winthrop does work all over the world.

They talk about Windomnet too, another innovative approach to service in rural areas…

Fortune’s success comes courtesy of Windomnet, among the nation’s first city-owned internet concerns. The company’s databases handle orders 24/7, a task impossible in much of outstate, since time-outs and dropped connections corrupt files, turning orders into horrors.

And Paul Bunyan…

The same thing could be said of Bemidji, home to Paul Bunyan Communications. It began as a telephone co-op in the 1950s, eventually moving on to TV and internet across multiple counties. “They’re really transforming that entire region,” says Coleman. “It’s becoming a high-technology center.”

And Lake Connections…

Lake County rode to the rescue. It created Lake Connections, with the unforgiving task of bringing broadband to 11,000 residents scattered across 2,100 square miles, an enterprise no private company would attempt.

 

MVTV Wireless helps out Frontier customer after PUC meeting

I heard from a lot of people after I posted about the PUC-Frontier meetings last week. Systemically, people in rural areas are frustrated by lack of choice and competition in broadband providers.

I did hear one happy ending story from MVTV Wireless, a provider that offers another option in some areas. Julie Foote, at MVTV, had reached out to someone who gave public comments at the meeting and was able to get them a better connection. I wanted to share the story – especially if it helps connect someone else to the broadband they need. Here is the Q&A on it…

How did Joe connect with you?  I reached out to Joe after reading the Blandin Blog. I was able to track him down thru work (googled him and found his LinkedIn account). Joe was surprised by how much attention the article was getting, and seemed to be glad that it was making a positive impact. Joe had never heard of MVTV Wireless Internet but was willing to give us a try. He agreed to allow our tech to check his location for Line Of Sight (LOS).

How were you able to help? Signal was available from our Worthington Access Point (AP), our tech installed the radio and Joe’s family now has 25Mbps!

As a member-owned not-for-profit Cooperative, if we had not been able to find LOS to Joe’s home, we would have tracked it as a ‘miss’ and continued to work on a solution if possible. …cause that’s what coops do. We focus on member needs.

This is how MVTV determines where we need to build/expand to next. Each new community is served due to an expressed need for alternative broadband internet choices. This practice enables us to go where we are needed and not waste resources on areas already being served sufficiently.

What speeds and prices are available? MVTV Wireless Internet provides unlimited fixed wireless broadband internet service at speeds ranging from 5Mbps to 25Mpbs. If a business were to need more speed, our Business Sales Team would work with them to find the appropriate technology for their bandwidth needs and mission critical tech support. For a list of plans, go to https://www.mvtvwireless.com/our-products/wireless-internet/ or call our office in Granite Falls at 320-564-4807. The prices listed are exactly what you pay. …no hidden fees. And we do not have contracts.

And how would someone know if you were available in their area? MVTV serves SW MN and a map of our footprint can be found here: https://www.mvtvwireless.com/our-products/wireless-internet/coverage-maps/

And/or on a more macro level – are you interested in talking to new service areas? ABSOLUTELY! Since our $1.85M middle mile network upgrade (which was completed last summer), we are now able to offer faster speeds and reach more areas. Since then, we’ve been actively back-filling areas we had not been able to serve in the past. In just one year, we’ve delivered service to dozens of new communities throughout our footprint.  Residents and businesses should check back with us if they had tried us in the past. We’ll be happy to send a tech for a recheck at no charge.

Five rural broadband principles from Broadband Connects America

The Benton Foundation reports on the Broadband Connects America and their Principles to Connect Rural America. Here are the five principles:

  1. Funding should be simple and allocated directly to infrastructure needs, not directly to last-mile carriers.
  2. Closing the rural digital divide will require a combination of approaches that reflects the complexity of the challenges of deploying broadband to rural America.
  3. Deployment should be focused on achieving tangible, affordable universal service to all rural Americans rather than allocated based on profit per population density.
  4. Restoring net neutrality is essential to closing the rural digital divide.
  5. Rural Americans’ access to high-speed internet should not be disadvantaged because of geography.