Transcript: Community Broadband Bits Episode 422

 

This is the transcript for episode 422 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. In this episode, Christopher talks with Craig Settles and Angela Siefer about digital equity and the racist impacts of federal broadband subsidies that fund only rural deployment. Listen to the episode, or read the transcript below.

 

 

Angela Siefer: In this moment in time, when we're in a pandemic or in this racial awareness kind of time, maybe what we were discussing, all of us with good intentions were discussing before, maybe it's not enough.

Ry Marcattilio-McCracken: Welcome to episode 422 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. This is Ry Marcattilio-McCracken, with the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. Today on the podcast, Christopher talks with Angela Siefer and Craig Settles. Angela, is the founder and executive director of the National Digital Inclusion Alliance and a tireless digital inclusion and equity advocate who has worked to connect communities for over two decades. Craig, is a nationally recognized consultant who works with public and private sector clients to build and improve networks. He hosts Gigabit Nation and is the director of Communities United for Broadband.

Ry Marcattilio-McCracken: Together, they untangled the long history of broadband subsidies and racial bias and how that has come to influence who has affordable connection options today. They also talk about the current state of telehealth and the ramifications of the Digital Equity Act since the adoption a year ago. Now, here's Christopher talking with Angela Siefer and Craig Settles.

Christopher Mitchell: Welcome, to another episode of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. I'm Christopher Mitchell with the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. And I'm here today with two favorites of the show, Angela Siefer, the executive director of the National Digital Inclusion Alliance. Welcome back, Angela.

Angela Siefer: Thanks, Chris.

Christopher Mitchell: And we also have Craig Settles, an industry analysts and consultants since 2006, which he likes to say, because I started in 2007 and he was there before me. He's also host of the Gigabit Nation radio talk show and director of Communities United for Broadband. Welcome back, Craig.

Craig Settles: Glad to be back.

Christopher Mitchell: Excellent. So we're going to talk about, let's see what the actual title was. It was along the lines of looking at racial bias in broadband policy, I think is the way I was thinking of it. And now, this is something that the three of us have been talking about both publicly and otherwise. But Craig, you were the one that suggested we should put it on a podcast. So what are we doing here?

Craig Settles: If I look at my start date in the days of the mini wifi-

Christopher Mitchell: Just rub it in.

2:17

Craig Settles: The jackpot in the sense of, they said we're going to build a citywide network, and people went crazy. It was a great thing ,a lot of other cities tried and implemented it as well. And even though Philadelphia didn't do as well as we had hoped, the root cause was significant, which is, the mayor looked at the demographics of the city, and you could basically figure out who had, or had not any broadband by their address, their economic status. The more affluent parts of Philadelphia, more than maybe 99.5% full adoption. When you look at say, the low-income parts of town, that would drop down to be 45, maybe 50% totally unserved.

Christopher Mitchell: To clarify what you're talking about, is the people who are using the connections. I think anyone who had the interest and the money could have paid a Comcast most likely at that time to sign up. And so, we are talking in this case, I think primarily about adoption, although over the course of this discussion, we're going to talk about both.

Craig Settles: I would say that the adoption narrative is probably how we have this problem where the low-income parts of town don't have broadband. But also and I think this was an issue in Philadelphia as well at that time, was the incumbents were not spending money in low-income areas because they could not get the money back. And this has been an ongoing issue. So it's been publicly a thing of adoption, affordability. But in reality, if you actually wanted to have broadband in a lot of these places, you would have had a pretty bad connection to begin with. They were just unkept up infrastructure.

4:43

Craig Settles: Now, we got to the broadband stimulus and because of that adoption narrative, the cities were left on their own and most of the money went to the rural areas. As we fast-forward to today, we still have the same need in terms of the percentage of the people who do not have access to the technology, to an infrastructure. And then also affordability I mean, they kind of go hand in hand. But we have put again, millions, billions in various programs. Just looking at the FCC and the USDA, they're spending this year at least $5 billion and the lifeline program, which is only a subsidy program. And then adequate wanted that, this is an under a billion. So we're basically talking about a five to one spending ratio with our tax tolerance. Yet we have three times as many urban folks who not get connected as-

Christopher Mitchell: Rural.

Craig Settles: Right. And Angela's report solidifies the issue very well in terms of numbers and what is the root cause of our problems.

Christopher Mitchell: Right. I want to start a bit generally, and I'm going to ask Angela to respond to some of that, but I want to note, first of all, there are some people who would bridle it, calling the high-cost programs, tax dollars, since it is collected from a fee on certain types of phone services. And I just wanted to throw that out there for the pedantic among me. And the other pieces, I feel like what you've been describing Craig, is that we've broken up the problem of people not being on the Internet into different buckets. And I think what you're saying is that was a mistake. And I want to get Angela sense of that because, and candidly, I've done this for a lot of years. I've thought it was useful to break it up into different buckets. But I do now see that that has made it very easy to spend all of the money on white communities.

Christopher Mitchell: And so, I want to throw all of that at you Angela, but let's start with I think you wanted to correct something also about the lifeline, just so people had a sense of the meager amount we are spending on a broadband subsidy that reaches people of color.

7:21

Angela Siefer: So, I would actually say we don't have a broadband subsidy. I would say the books legally, the FCC has widened lifeline to include broadband, but are people actually getting a broadband subsidy? Very few people are. More folks have a mobile phone because they really need their phone. And then they have three gigs of data. I think we can all agree, three gigs of data is not broadband. So it's the few folks that are using lifeline for a wire line service. They have broadband through wireline, but it's so small, I don't even think we can say we have a broadband subsidy.

Christopher Mitchell: Sure. So the problem is worse than Craig described. But first, can you just respond to the question about whether it's a mistake to be breaking up the problem of families not on the Internet into one of adoption versus access?

Angela Siefer: So, no, I don't think that's a problem. I think we have to divide it up in order so that we know what we're solving. So what is the barrier? Is the barrier that the infrastructure doesn't exist? Let's solve that barrier. Is the barrier that it's affordable? Let's solve that barrier. Is that the barrier that they don't know how to use it? Let's solve that barrier. It could be somebody who has all the barriers. So it could be they're in a rural area and it gets built and they still can't afford it. We need to make sure that we are addressing them. I think the difference now is that we used to only talk about the availability barrier.

Angela Siefer: Now we're talking about adoption too, and it's common enough that I don't always have to, if I'm talking to a reporter, I don't always have to say like, "Hey, there's this other thing called adoption." A lot of times come in knowing that, that's an issue and that's the pandemic that's created that awareness.

Christopher Mitchell: What did NDA find when you looked at how we've spent money on broadband subsidies?

Angela Siefer: So, we looked at where the subsidies were going, rural areas, they're not going to urban areas, even though there's no adoption there, or low adoption there. They're going to rural areas where there's places where the infrastructure doesn't exist. And when we looked at where those places are, they tend to be white populations. We were looking mostly at who doesn't have service. So we were not looking at the issue of where exactly has the money gone and what the racial makeup is of that areas. I highly encourage somebody to do that. We were looking at more where the need is in terms of rural, and that does tend to be more white.

9:43

Craig Settles: I definitely agree with Angela's approach, to look at it in these buckets. I think that for the purposes of how we allocate the money that goes into the high cost programs, which R&D coming from the money that you put into your phone bill, as opposed to your tax dollars, but then you look at what the USDA spends, their loan programs and grant programs so forth, that is indeed tax dollars. Collectively, we're talking about a people of the United States where everybody is paying into both of these sources of income, yet we're not getting well represented in the spending of that money.

Craig Settles: And so, when you look at the urban area, yes, you can say that they have better infrastructure than the rural areas, which may have none. And that's a fair statement. And I would still say, that in a lot of the urban areas, you don't have good infrastructure. Now, it's probably, it may be difficult to figure out where it is. Maybe we look at the maps that we're using in general to determine where we have broadband. They're a joke. So, it's hard to determine what's real, but you still have to figure out that we have a problem. And part of it is an infrastructure and part of it is adoption. But I think you got to figure out how do you still address the issue of the infrastructure part?

Christopher Mitchell: I think you're right. But I also want to move on a little bit and I'll say that, I think you're right, because I know that from maps that Bill Callahan did with Angela and others of Cleveland and Detroit. We've seen that there is not equal infrastructure access. And so, I am one of the foremost proponent of building new and better infrastructure in the cities. Because I think you and I agree on that. I'd like to focus on where the money has been spent. And in one of the things that you've really been focused on lately, is telehealth. And in one of the things you've done more lately, is to look at how telehealth subsidies are spent. And some of the current laws that are being debated. And once again, it does seem like there is a real racial bias in the outcome of where money's going. So tell us what you found.

12:40

Craig Settles: You cannot separate the discussion of broadband and telehealth because, telehealth doesn't exist where there isn't broadband. If I look at for example, in Cleveland, there's a clinic, a medical practice, which actually involves seven offices within Cleveland. And they have, we see this emergency grant from the FCC, great. But when they implemented the telehealth, there were problems where people could not get to them, those practices offices, because they didn't have good broadband. So, the problem has then for the telehealth folks and anybody who's actually receiving money is that, if you're getting money for beefing up your technology within the office and giving those practices money to underwrite devices, computing devices, you have solved a problem, but you haven't affected the fact that some percentage of their patients will not be able to access that telehealth service.

Craig Settles: And where I also think it's very dramatic in terms of the situation that we have, is that where the largest concentration of African Americans and people of color is in the urban areas, they represent 75% of those people not connected. And they are also the same people who have high diabetes, strokes, and hypertension. The healthcare for our minority population in this country sucks. And so you cannot not have a discussion about broadband when you talk about telehealth because of the actual infrastructure, but you have to also look at the fact that where are we not having good health care?

15:07

Christopher Mitchell: Let me see if I can summarize. You're saying that the telehealth programs that we have, are basically focused on getting money out to the practices, to the doctor's offices, so that they can design their systems to work with people that have home broadband access, rather than trying to make sure the populations in which we might see the greatest medical savings, the most hope for the most interventions that would be successful, are populations that happen to be African-American often and are the least connected.

Craig Settles: Yes, exactly.

Christopher Mitchell: So I feel like, I mean, this is something I've been thinking a lot about, and I feel like this is a tremendous failure, the understatement.

Angela Siefer: Isn't it the same problem Chris, the idea that if we just provided the infrastructure, that's the problem solve the problem. If we just help the doctors to do their job, then that again is the infrastructure. They are the infrastructure. So, it's the same problem where we're not turning to go to address the actual community members who are using. And so it's both using the Internet in general and using the specifically, this specific application telehealth, we have to actually look at the community members who are, or are not using it.

Christopher Mitchell: Yes. I'm struggling to figure out, there's so many different ways to take this, but I feel like for people who are listening, they might be thinking, well yeah, but this is broadband policy and that's telehealth policy and it's focused on health. And I feel like if there's one thing that people should be aware of in 2020 regarding this, is that we live in a system in which we have to figure out how to deal with past injustices. And if we have programs that are just going to perpetuate the past injustices, then we have to rectify those programs.

Christopher Mitchell: People who are making telehealth policy need to be aware in how they are perpetuating this racism, by developing a solution that is only applicable to people who often moved out of the cities. And at a time in which African Americans were not allowed to move out of the cities. I want to make sure we come back to that because I think a lot of people who listen to this show, they may not pay as much attention to the racial policy issues that the rest of us do, because it's of an interest.

17:32

Angela Siefer: Couldn't you make the same argument though about education? So prior to COVID, my youngest child, 10 years old would get suggestions from her teachers assignments, you might even say, to be using certain applications that they pay for that the school pays online so that she can get ahead or she could do it at school. Where she does it at school, she's not getting ahead. Then she's falling behind because if something comes up and you don't do it right so the teacher's like, "Okay, we'll do it at home." But then for kids who didn't have it, that wasn't really part of the equation, "Well, you could come into the school and do it." "Okay, thanks. That's not helpful at all."

Angela Siefer: So it's the same thing with telehealth, it's that we're looking at the structure, it's great that the school was paying for that, but we weren't looking at the kids themselves and then the pandemic hit and now we're like, "Kids don't have Internet, seniors don't have Internet." All of a sudden the pandemic hit and now there's awareness.

Craig Settles: I think it is a painful discussion for some people to have. I think it was very easy for some people to not have the discussion, because like when I talked to broadband people and say, "Oh, you need to talk about telehealth and you need to be involved in that process." Their first response is, "I build the network and I'm done." And that's where we are with broadband. That's where we are with education. That's where we are with healthcare and telehealth and so-

Angela Siefer: Craig, don't you also think that's a comfort level. It's uncomfortable to deal with equity issues.

Craig Settles: That I know about.

Angela Siefer: Or uncomfortable to just build it and walk away.

Christopher Mitchell: This is all true. I want to make sure that we all have the same sort of folks in mind that we're talking about. To some extent, if a person who runs an ISP tells me, "Look, I don't know anything about telehealth. I don't want to get involved with that." I respect that a lot more than if I hear it from an elected official. Elected official it's too bad. You ran to solve public problems, this is a public problem, you don't get to just pick the ones that are easiest, some do. But I feel like it's worth noting. I would go further to say, I think if we expect ISP is to solve telehealth problems, ultimately we're going to get bad telehealth solutions.

19:48

Craig Settles: No, I think we should look at Chattanooga again. Because when they also applied for the same grant that the folks in Cleveland did. And so when they were developing a strategy, how they were going to propose for a grant, they put the EPB people who had done grants before, they got the vendor who was providing services in Tennessee and other places. And then we had the enterprise center. And there was a case where the EPB folks built the network and technically they were done. But because they worked with the mindset that we all work together to find the problem, and then we divvy out who's responsible for the implementation of this solution. That's how they went about the application that then became the application that went to the FCC.

Craig Settles: All I'm saying is that, everybody should be a part of the discussion and where it makes sense they should impact the solution. But it's not the same thing as saying, "I built it in and I'm not going to worry about more."

Angela Siefer: No, I think you're totally right. We're definitely seeing overall, not just in the telehealth realm overall in the digital inclusion realm, that in places where there are more partners coming to the table so to speak, there's more getting done.

Craig Settles: Exactly. And I'm a big proponent of that. It's just it's hard to get people, I mean they're busy people, they got the thing in front of them and that's their job and their main objective.

Christopher Mitchell: But Craig, let me jump in for a second. I also think there's an issue of how we define the problem. I've been a proponent of a long time of defining the problem that I work on, let's make sure people can have a physical network available, that's available at a reasonable price to them and ideally multiple networks, but ideally one that's community owned, I have multiple things I'm working on. And when you look at, for instance, Wilson, North Carolina, doing a great job, they have in their public housing, the $10 a month for anyone in public housing and they see about two thirds adoption of it.

22:18

Christopher Mitchell: And so, depending on how I solve the problem, I'm done, but maybe I'm not. And that's where I feel like it's really important to think about how we're defining the problem, because if we think of this as okay, as long as we get the price down at $10 a month, there's nothing more we have to do. But I think Angela is part of a... you've helped build this whole network of people that understand that, that's not the end of government's responsibility. That in fact, if we were to leave it there, we would leave a lot of value on the table. We would miss a lot of opportunities and it's foolish to end there.

Christopher Mitchell: So Angela, with that, if you can guide us into the Digital Equity Act, I think it'd be useful to talk about how we fix, how we've only spent in more rural whiter areas.

Angela Siefer: So the Digital Equity Act, the contents of it are in the HEROES Act and in others places right now. But the content is that, we need state digital equity plans. So I maybe oppose if we'd had state digital equity plan that we had started to implement, maybe we wouldn't have been in the spot we were in when the pandemic hit. So we weren't, so let's make sure that we do create state digital equity plans, where we do make sure everybody has access to the Internet and the device and the digital literacy training. And so that Digital Equity Act is money for the States to create the plans, monies for States implement those plans, and then monies for other programs that are out there that aren't maybe weren't part of those state plans. Those would be more competitive to make sure that there's a lot of innovation going on in the field.

Angela Siefer: There hasn't really been money in the digital inclusion field. So innovation happens at the grass. You don't get more grassroots than when there's no money. We got to figure out how to support that because it's already... the awesome is there, at the local level, they need more resources to do the work that they've been doing. Not only like money kind of resources, but academics to be involved in the research. So we know which strategies work and which don't. Unfortunately, we don't have a lot of information on which strategies work. Why not? Because nobody had money to pay for it. So we need more of that also.

Angela Siefer: The Digital Equity Act itself, it's a first step. It is a way for us to make sure that there's ongoing financial support and it can't be the only piece. There's lots of other pieces out there. The local folks are figuring out amazing pieces, States are now addressing it. So, as we keep doing that and it's going to get kind of messy and I think that's okay and it'll frustrate some folks because of the messiness. We have to get where there are more resources for that local work.

24:53

Christopher Mitchell: And if we step back for a second, I'll ask you this first Angela, but Craig would love to have you jump in. Let me start off by saying that I don't think it's true that we should think our goal is to get 100% of people online. Some people always choose not to be online. That's fine. We always want to make sure that there're particularly families that have children are able to make sure that they have all the education opportunities. But so if we just assume that we're just looking at the world of everyone that in theory would want to be online, why should government care? If the last 10% of people are figuring it out?

Angela Siefer: Because it costs them money when people aren't online. I think this is the part that we really, really wish we could dig more into, governments, businesses, healthcare systems, most certainly. How much money would any of them save, if more of their clients, patients constituencies were online and they were able to have their services be online and not have those offline versions to make sure that those works folks were still served. Health systems in particular, I would love to see somebody do a study as to what a healthcare system could save if they were able to have more of their clients using those telehealth systems, using their personal health record systems, that would be incredible.

Christopher Mitchell: And Craig, what do you think of when I asked that question.

Craig Settles: I think that one of the arguments about where we are with adoption and so forth is that, people don't understand and they'd have no interest and so forth. I think we're asking the wrong question. I think the question is, how many people are affected by their health? How many people are being affected by the lack of education or the lack of lifelong education. And I think that we've tried to go at the problem of getting people interested in being on broadband. And people just said, "No, I don't have no any interest. I don't see any need." And so forth. But if you said to someone, "What if you were able to take care of this problem you have with diabetes, this problem you have going to see a doctor, your desire to have some sort of a facility where I can get retrained and for a new type of a job or profession and so forth."

27:24

Craig Settles: And so, we attack the issue as a technology. We need to throw technology at it. And then if you were a smart person, you don't understand that there's a value in throwing this technology at you. As opposed to saying, "What's this thing that you do over here, this need that you have over there." And then you say, "Well, I can find a way, or if I can find a way to meet this need, would makes sense." And the person would probably go, "Yes, great. It'd save me a lot of time." Or, "I would be a healthier person." And then you say, "Well, we can solve this problem with broadband. And we have this package of whatever relationship, whatever comes from a telehealth company and a hospital and so forth."

Craig Settles: But it's how we ask the question. It was the same thing back in 2005, when Philadelphia was feeling the need to build a citywide network and people were like, "Oh my God, it's the end of the world." But if someone has said, we have a health problem, if by asking the right question from Philadelphia days up to now, we've been plagued by not asking the right kinds of questions. And when I look at feasibility studies and I just go, "Oh, another feasibility study." That's why I advocate for a needs assessment. Because if I'm talking about what is it that you need, and then I can show you a correlation between your need and this particular piece of technology that you are going to be a loyal advocate and a customer for that network as [inaudible 00:29:23] and so forth.

Craig Settles: I think we're working in the same direction all of us and all of the people that we interact with, but I think we just need to look at some of the needs that we're trying to solve, not how do we solve the need for broadband.

29:44

Christopher Mitchell: Yeah. I think in many ways Craig, what you're describing is, what good programs do in the communities when digital inclusion groups have the funds to work with people on a one-on-one basis to help them to solve this. I would combine what you both said to some extent also by noting, one of the reasons I think we haven't seen schools using more curriculum online, is because they know the kids don't have a connection at home. And that's holding back education. And I'm not saying that we can solve all education problems by throwing computers at it. But I think that there's a lot that we're losing by being in this in between time. When government businesses, all kinds of folks have to have two ways of doing things. One is non-digital and the other is digital.

Angela Siefer: Yeah. We've built a new partnership and it's with an entity that had been providing job skills training to older adults. And when the pandemic hit, they couldn't figure out what to do because so many of their older adults that they were serving didn't have Internet or the skills or the device, does anyone guess what they did? Paper. Correspondence school is back.

Christopher Mitchell: I wanted to note one other thing, which is that, we're seeing a lot of electric co-ops building fiber in rural areas. We've talked about rural areas as being predominantly white, but it's worth remembering that many of them are not. I think most of them are, but particularly there's areas of concentrated black folks in the South. And one of the things that we're seeing in Mississippi is there are 13 electric co-ops moving forward and they almost all serve whiter audiences. When I think about also, this has a racial impact, but I'll say that also when I've traveled in rural New York, rural Maine, there's tremendous amounts of white poverty of people who can't afford $50 a month for a rural broadband connection either.

Christopher Mitchell: And so, I think that the next hurdle is how do we not just get a good connection out to rural areas, but how do we make sure a business model can support making sure everyone can use it.

Angela Siefer: We can't just build it and just assume people will come because those who can't afford it won't come. And we can't be okay with that. We can't just shrug your shoulders and be like, "Well, wish they had enough money to pay for that connection."

32:00

Craig Settles: I have to say though, it's one of the reasons why I advocated for this session though, that I don't want to get lost, when we have a situation where we are spending in essence five, 10 times more to solve a need in a rural area and totally ignore the need in the urban area. There is an injustice here. I have no problem with understanding that rural areas have needs and it is a pain to build a solution to their geographic area. I don't necessarily want to get into us versus them.

Christopher Mitchell: We shouldn't Craig and I appreciate that. I don't think I've ever felt that you were us versus them kind of person. We're running out of time for Angela. I just want to hear Angela react to this quickly. I feel like we made a decision, Congress under Republicans and then signed by Trump to give 18 T billions of dollars back. This isn't a situation in which we can only afford to invest in rural or urban areas. We are losing money by not solving this problem for everyone and growing the economy. And so, I just want to give Angela a chance for a last word before you have to run off to yet another meeting.

Angela Siefer: To Craig's point that we are investing more to deploy in the rural areas, I would actually say, we're not investing anything in the urban areas.

Christopher Mitchell: Anything's more than zero.

Angela Siefer: Right. Even the amounts that we put in that are in that Digital Equity Act, poultry, compared to what is already being discussed. And even all the good intentions of some of the folks in DC right now, if you look at what they're saying for rural deployment and what they're saying for the broadband adoption which is everywhere, that's not rural, that's urban and rural for the adoption. It's a pittance. And so I think in this moment in time, when we're in a pandemic or in this racial awareness kind of time now is when we say, okay, let's go back and look at those numbers because maybe what we were discussing all of us with good intentions we're discussing before, maybe it's not enough.

Christopher Mitchell: Thank you so much, Angela. I really appreciate you jumping on.

Angela Siefer: Thanks for having me.

Christopher Mitchell: So Craig, before I kicked you off, now that Angela's gone-

Angela Siefer: Yay. [inaudible 00:34:33].

Christopher Mitchell: Let me ask you, how should we address this disparity between nothing. And even if we get something, but it'll probably be far less than the need is in urban areas. I'll say it because maybe not everyone's aware of it, but I think Congress is something that responds more often to white communities than black. Black communities are mostly invisible unless they're being used as examples of high crime. And particularly in the past four years under this president. So what do you think we should be doing about the disparity in spending and outcomes?

35:09

Craig Settles: We've got to make a decision that there is a disparity. Because I think right now a lot of people don't know. They don't realize that there is a disparity because they think that everything is fine in the urban area. If I look at 2008, that was the last time when broadband was across the board. Everybody needs broadband. And then in the broadband stimulus, like 2009, everything was all about the rural. And it's been this way for what, eight years or so, and it's become an accepted fact.

Christopher Mitchell: Yeah. I don't think it would be at all correct or realistic to say that it's because members of Congress only to help white people. I think it's because cable lobbyists are very savvy and again, they're not racist necessarily, I'm sure that there might be a few that are, but he can't speak about any broad group like that without knowing them. But the simple fact is that, they have encouraged policies that have resulted in spending. It just so happens that those are patterns in which is where white people live, and the areas of the cities where they're not necessarily meeting the need, where families can't afford their services, or there might not be good enough services. The lobbyists have been very good about making sure government doesn't try to even solve that.

Craig Settles: And then that needs to be a point where we come to the table and say, this cannot stand, this disparity, the extent of the disparity is so egregious that it needs to be addressed. Somehow we have to acknowledge that. But I also think we need to look at, there may be many ways that we can address the disparity, but doesn't necessarily have to fall on government. I mean, look at what Chattanooga just did. They basically raised money from organizations and private sector folks and all that-

37:27

Christopher Mitchell: A lot of it's from government. Yeah, local government

Craig Settles: Address 28,000 kids. We need to acknowledge the disparity, but then we got to say, how do we solve the problem so that there is equity on both sides of the equation. So, if urban has the greater need, acknowledge the fact that the greater resources, the companies, the financial institutions, all of these things that represent resources, or that can be turned and translated into resources, they need to be considered part of the solution. This doesn't freak out the people will say, "Oh my God, we can't afford this and that [inaudible 00:38:21]." Well, no, let's look at the ways, is that whole thing of, we're not asking the right questions because we get so centered on the one solution. In this case money, we want more money from the government that just this disparity issue.

Craig Settles: Well, no, we need money and resources to solve the problem and pass that.

Christopher Mitchell: There's a saying that poverty is expensive. When you think about it, because I feel like people look at government policy and think, this is healthcare, and this is broadband, and this is the prison industrial system, this is the education. And yet, I think you find that if you spend a little bit in broadband compared to the others, you get these remarkable savings. We've talked before about the Maryland study that gave people a device that probably costs $500 and a data plan that probably costs five or 600, let's call it 1000. They invested maybe $1,500 into 100 people. So let's call that $150,000 if I'm doing that. Yeah, that's right. Sorry. You can edit it up. And my confusion, I think I want you to ask you to check me Craig, because you already said the numbers [inaudible 00:39:49].

Craig Settles: Bless you.

39:55

Christopher Mitchell: And on that they saved $2 million over two years. And I'm not saying that that means that we can give everyone a tablet, but I am saying that there are probably millions of folks out there for whom if we spent $1,500, over the course of a year, we would save significantly more than that expenditure. And that doesn't even look at that with benefits from education, from giving people opportunities in life and not funneling them toward [inaudible 00:40:21] system. So, this is where you need the whole cost accounting to really have a sense of what does it cost to continue operating the way we have been, versus looking at how we can use the tools that we have today to really fix the problems that we've just been ignoring for all these years.

Christopher Mitchell: I would say you live in Oakland, I live in Saint Paul, Minnesota for many of us, for me, especially, I know it's easy to ignore these problems. But I shouldn't say it in a way that it's not like everyone can ignore it if you're living in a low-income community then especially if you're a person of color, then you can't just ignore it. But this is something we can fix. We can start getting on the right line. I think broadband is a good place to do it.

Craig Settles: Then I would say that when I talk to cities and when I'm in the middle of doing a needs assessment, so the questions are, what is it that you need? And then if I solve this problem, what are the benefits, financial, social, whatever, that comes with solving that problem. Because generally the second question is where you start to find the money. Because then people will say, "Well, okay, yeah, I may have to spend $1,500. But I get benefits that maybe 20, $40,000 over time." And so by asking that question again, it's all about the question, if I ask the question of, "What is your need?" And then followed by and then, "What are the benefits of meeting your need? "

Craig Settles: I think again, that comes back to the whole thing of everyone this goes, see the price tag, And they don't do the, "What's my need, what are the benefits of meeting my need?" Without that part of the discussion we're going to still get screwed up.

42:25

Christopher Mitchell: That's right. Well, Craig, thank you for suggesting this topic. I think this is really important. I certainly hope that people will let us know what they're thinking about it. I think it's important to note that, the way that some of us have framed this, isn't necessarily wrong to be focused on the infrastructure. I don't think I'm sitting here and being like, "If you believe that government should only do infrastructure, you're wrong." What I'm trying to say is, is that, you can be in a situation in which there are different ways of looking at things and all of them are right, but they'd lead you to different implications, and you need to be aware of those.

Craig Settles: Yeah. Because I think one of the things that came out of the Philadelphia book on the whole Philadelphia wireless thing, was this research guy who did all these different focus groups. And he goes, "There's a problem orientation with dealing with the product, whatever. And then there is the creation orientation." And the problem solving is basically I got this problem. Somebody please fix this problem because I'm going to die if I don't get this problem fixed. And then once it gets fixed, then we're done. We don't think about it anymore. And we move on to the next thing. He goes, "What will you say? We're going to create something." Then all of a sudden people kind of go, "Well, I can create this bigger thing than I had even imagined." Holy mackerel, and then people get excited about it.

Craig Settles: They tell their friends, all of a sudden money becomes available. People find alternative ways to make a project happen, where I think I'm Devin [inaudible 00:44:08], was saying that there were people that provided something else almost like a [inaudible 00:44:15] thing. But the whole thing is, when you have the creation vibe, the creation orientation, that is what will open up all of these different possibilities. As opposed to "I'm going to fix this one problem, because I got all these people young and screaming about it and when it's done, I have a good night's sleep." And so, that's what we need to be looking at all of this stuff when we were talking about broadband and digital, whatever.

Christopher Mitchell: I think that's going to be the last word. I agree with you. I think this is where we see enlightened leadership and we hopefully will be able to learn from cities like Chattanooga that are pushing so far ahead.

Craig Settles: Yeah.

Christopher Mitchell: Thank you, Craig.

Craig Settles: Hi. No problem, buddy. Thank you.

Ry Marcattilio-McCracken: That was Christopher talking with Angela Siefer and Craig Settles. We have transcripts for this and other podcasts available at muninetworks.org/broadbandbits. Email us @podcastatmuninetworks.org with your ideas for the show. Follow Chris on Twitter, his handle is@communitynets. Follow muninetworks.org stories on Twitter. The handle is @muninetworks. Subscribe to this and other podcasts from ILSR, including Building Local Power, Local Energy Rules, and the Composting for Community podcast. You can access them anywhere you get your podcasts.

Ry Marcattilio-McCracken: You can catch the latest important research from all of our initiatives, if you subscribe to our monthly newsletter @ilsr.org, while you're there, please take a moment to donate your support in any amount, keeps us going. Thank you to Arne Huseby for the song, Warm Duck Shuffle, licensed through Creative Commons. This is episode 422 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. Thanks for listening.

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