Tag: "digital divide"

Posted November 5, 2019 by lgonzalez

In late October 2019, Christopher travelled to the D.C. area to attend a Broadband Communities Economic Development event and while he was there, he sat down with Executive Director Adrianne Furniss and  Senior Fellow Jon Sallet from the Benton Institute for Broadband & Society. This week, we get to sit in on their conversations about the recent change at Benton from "foundation" to "institute" and about their recent report, Broadband for America's Future: A Vision for the 2020s.

First, Christopher speaks with Adrianne, who discusses the reasons why the organization has recently changed in order to stay current with their mission and with the times. She talks a little about the history of Benton and describes some of the reasons for developing the report.

Christopher spends most of the interview with Jon Sallet, who authored the report and who has a long career in antitrust and communications. After working in D.C. in telecommunications and Internet policy for several decades, he's seen the influence of the Internet grow. In this report, Jon analyzes stories and situations from around the U.S. and establishes a vision that will help us move forward to connect as many people as possible. He and Christopher discuss the four major factors that, if nurtured correctly, can help us integrate broadband into all sectors of society and maximize its usefulness. Christopher and Jon give special time to competition, an issue that arises repeatedly in the work at Benton and in our work at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance.

The interview will spark your interest in the report that...

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Posted October 30, 2019 by lgonzalez

The Benton Institute for Broadband & Society has a reputation for looking at today’s reality with an eye toward tomorrow’s needs. In their report, Broadband for America’s Future: A Vision for the 2020s, Benton Senior Fellow Johnathan Sallet continues that perspective and offers insightful recommendations for a new National Broadband Agenda.

Download the report, Broadband for America’s Future: A Vision for the 2020s here.

Broadband for All Needs a New Approach

As access to high-quality connectivity becomes more critical each day, those without fast, affordable, reliable Internet access lose ground more quickly as time passes. In addition to the opportunities that come with broadband access, lack of adoption translates into lack of technical skills. Innovation isn’t slowing down for folks who don’t have broadband. 

As Sallet notes, access to and adoption of broadband improves our economy, strengthens communities, and empowers American workers. Obtaining that access and expanding that adoption, however, is proving more challenging than it should be.

In his report, the author reviews in detail the barriers that have prevented the U.S. from achieving its goal of ubiquitous access and adoption of broadband. He’s able to make recommendations based on four key policy areas:

Deployment of networks where adequate broadband does not exist;

Competition to increase choices and spur lower prices and better-quality service to their residents;

Affordability and Adoption for those who wish to have broadband in their homes but lack the means or the skills to acquire it; and

Community Anchor Institutions, such as schools and libraries, that increasingly serve their users wherever they are. 

Deploying Better Networks, Creating Choice

In addition to better data collection in order to know where Internet access is inadequate, Sallet writes that policymakers and citizens should also have access to information about Internet access that hasn't...

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Posted October 15, 2019 by lgonzalez

South Bend, Indiana, is a mid-sized city of around 100,000 people where they are making practical use of their dark fiber network and technology. In episode 378 of the podcast, Christopher talks with Denise Linn Riedl, Chief Innovation Officer. Denise describes many of the "non-sexy" ways the community and her department are using technology to encourage interdepartmental cooperation, efficiency, and the idea that technology is a standard tool, rather than a "shiny new thing."

Denise introduces us to the publicly owned dark fiber infrastructure, Choice Light, and shares a little about its history. She describes how Internet access companies use the infrastructure to provide service to various sectors of the community. Digital inclusion is on the minds of South Bend leadership and Denise describes partnerships that have helped shrink the lack of access for people who struggle to get online. Christopher and Denise delve into the subtle digital inclusion efforts that happen every day in South Bend.

The interview also covers the city's work to use technology and data to measure success and find areas for increased efficiencies in city services. Christopher and Denise examine ways to reduce bureaucracy through technology and take a practical approach by considering what resources are currently available. Denise's department works with other governmental departments on adopting new approaches and working through change management. She discusses the city's data governance project and reveiws some of the surprising moments that have led to innovative use of data to enhance city operations in South Bend and cut costs.

We want your feedback and suggestions for the show-please e...

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Posted October 10, 2019 by Katie Kienbaum

Which would you choose — a broadband subscription with download speeds of 15 Megabits per second (Mbps) or a much faster gigabit plan for the same price?

The choice is clear, and it’s one that low-income households in Hillsboro, Oregon, may soon make, thanks to the city’s planned municipal fiber network. Earlier this year, Hillsboro announced that its new broadband utility, HiLight, will offer gigabit connectivity for only $10 per month to qualified low-income residents. In comparison, Comcast’s Internet Essentials program provides low-income families in the city speeds of just 15 Mbps for roughly the same monthly cost.

Hillsboro isn’t the first community to leverage its publicly owned fiber network for digital inclusion efforts. Municipal networks across the country are providing low-cost connectivity, affordable devices, and digital skills trainings to their communities, bringing the educational, economic, and healthcare benefits of broadband access to more people.

Defining Digital Inclusion

Digital inclusion is the practice of ensuring digital equity, which the National Digital Inclusion Alliance defines as “a condition in which all individuals and communities have the information technology capacity needed for full participation in our society, democracy and economy.”

Broadband availability is only one of many “digital divides” that explain who is and isn’t connected. For instance, income and affordability also play a role. According to the Pew Research Center, adults with annual incomes of $75,000 or more are almost twice as likely to have broadband access at home than adults with annual incomes of less than $30,000. Among those without home broadband access, the high cost of a subscription is most commonly cited as the top reason why, Pew reports.

logo-NDIA.jpg To succeed, digital...

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Posted October 7, 2019 by lgonzalez

This week is Digital Inclusion Week, sponsored by the National Digital Inclusion Alliance (NDIA). As a reader of MuniNetworks.org, you're used to stories about local communities that develop strategies to deploy networks for many reasons, including to improve access to high-quality connectivity. These local communities recognize the necessity of finding a way for members of the community to obtain fast, affordable, reliable Internet access. Access, however, is only one element of digital inclusion. We'll share stories highlighting local efforts to bring every person online with the tools they need to expand their use of the Internet.

NDIA writes:

Digital Inclusion Week (DIW)  is October 7-11, 2019, and with your help we can move closer to our common goal: that all people have access to the Internet and the tools they need to use it. The week, sponsored by the National Digital Inclusion Alliance, is an opportunity to raise awareness about digital inequities and nationwide efforts to close those gaps from California to the Carolinas. Digital Inclusion Week seeks to bring people who dedicate their lives to Digital Inclusion together to highlight the impact of their work and to come together to find solutions to close digital divides.

What is Digital Inclusion?

Digital inclusion isn't limited to the inability to subscribe to Internet access because one doesn't live in a place where is isn't available. NDIA applies five necessary elements:

Digital Inclusion refers to the activities necessary to ensure that all individuals and communities, including the most disadvantaged, have access to and use of Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs).  This includes 5 elements: 

1) affordable, robust broadband Internet service; 

2) Internet-enabled devices that meet the needs of the user; 

3) access to digital literacy training; 

4) quality technical support; and 

5) applications and online content designed to enable and encourage self-sufficiency, participation and collaboration. 

Digital Inclusion must evolve as technology advances. Digital Inclusion requires intentional strategies and investments to reduce and eliminate historical, institutional and structural barriers to access and use technology.

Join In the...

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Posted October 3, 2019 by lgonzalez

Federal Communications Commission (FCC) mapping has long been criticized for inaccuracies. Now, state and local initiatives are taking up the challenge of poor broadband mapping and developing ways to create their own maps that better reflect the reality of broadband coverage in their communities. The Georgia Broadband Deployment Initiative (GBDI) recently showcased several county-level maps they’ve developed that provide the detail that FCC maps lack.

Therein the Problem Lies

As experts have noted, FCC data on which maps are based are inadequate because their foundation is based on census blocks. If one premise in a census block can be served by an Internet access provider, that provider will report on the Form 477 that the entire census block is served. In rural areas where census blocks can be very large tracts of land, this can leave many premises indicated as served but actually unserved. 

We developed this graphic to illustrate the issue:

diagram-census-blocks-2018.jpg

When local communities apply for funding that’s based on the need to connect unserved and underserved premises, they can be disqualified due to incorrect mapping data. For local leaders who need to get their communities connected and expect to apply for grants and loans, FCC mapping can derail their funding and delay or end a proposed project.

This past August, the FCC announced that they will finally take steps to improve mapping and began seeking comments on the new Digital Opportunity Data Collection. Read the announcement [PDF].

Fixing the Maps

In Georgia, the GBDI sought to obtain information on a more granular level to obtain an accurate representation of where residents and businesses need to be connected and where they lack the kind of connectivity they need. 

According to GBDI Director Deanna Perry, staff developed a database of all premises located within the targeted counties they...

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Posted September 25, 2019 by lgonzalez

Before the Internet was an integral part of daily life, libraries were often places where people went to study, ready, or find a quiet corner. Things are different now and so is the role of the librarian. Libraries are now vibrant, busy places where people of all ages still turn for their favorite author or story time for the kids. The hub of activity in many libraries now, however, are computers and the librarians to help manage them. In a recent episode of The Takeaway, we learn about how librarians in two different environments approach the needs of their patrons, most who count on them to help overcome access issues.

Matt Katz speaks with librarian Lauren Comito who works in Brooklyn and provides a better and more nuanced view of the digital divide. It isn’t as simple as either being connected or not. He also talks with Jessamyn West, who fills the same role in a rural Vermont library. She confirms Lauren’s analysis; both fill the important role of being the trusted source that folks in the neighborhood turn to for help navigating the digital divide.

The Takeaway talks about the many factors that influence the digital divide, including cost, access to connectivity, and the learning curve. They discuss device challenges and how lack of knowledge about the Internet can expand the digital divide. Lauren and Jessamyn also describe how libraries are more than just places people go who need computers for critical access — libraries are also social and community centers where people can expand their support networks. Both Lauren and Jessamyn share stories of how they've helped patrons who needed a boost that could only come from a librarian.

Librarians have come to understand the complexities of the digital divide and finding ways for people with unique needs to overcome it.

Check out the conversation on The Takeaway - How Libraries Are Bringing the Digital Divide.

Posted September 18, 2019 by lgonzalez

In early September, officials in San Francisco made an offer to purchase assets belonging to Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E). Preston Rhea, Director of Engineering, Policy Program at ISP MonkeyBrains believes that, while the purchase makes sense for electric ratepayers in the community, it could also herald a new age of connectivity for the citizens of San Francisco. We became familiar with Preston's vision and talent for innovation when we developed a report on MonkeyBrains, which collaborated with the city to offer high-quality Internet access to low-income households.

Preston recently published this piece on the possibilities in the San Francisco Examiner and has allowed us to share it with you.

 

Buying PG&E’s distribution network could also make municipal broadband possible

by Preston Rhea

The City of San Francisco is doubly harmed by its relationship with PG&E.

The for-profit utility neglected to invest in safety upgrades to its transmission lines, resulting in a series of deadly fires that killed dozens of people last year and choked Northern California with poisonous smoke. PG&E is using its bankruptcy to avoid liability for the disasters it caused.

Meanwhile, ratepayers in San Francisco feed PG&E’s shareholder profits and our municipal government pays it tens of millions of dollars a year.

Now that situation may change. The news that Mayor London Breed made a $2.5 billion offer to acquire all of PG&E’s power distribution assets that serve San Francisco is a great idea, and it opens the door to a revolution in city services that could go beyond electricity. It could mean gigabit broadband for all.

How does acquiring a power utility lead to municipal Internet? This is a well-trodden path all over the US — most famously in Chattanooga, Tennessee, where the cooperatively-run Electrical Power Board (EPB) began offering telecom service over a decade ago. Today EPB serves over 60 percent of their power customers with symmetrical Internet connections over optical fiber, many years ahead of schedule.

Fiber is used to monitor power...

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Posted September 6, 2019 by lgonzalez

As broadband continues to become integrated into more aspects of life, researchers will find new ways to study and document the effects on modern society. The National Digital Inclusion Alliance (NDIA), in partnership with the Brookings Institution’s Metropolitan Policy Program, recently created a searchable database of resources to help those seeking information on issues related to digital inclusion. The Broadband Research Base is ready to assist researchers, advocates, and community leaders.

Organizing the References

According to the NDIA, the collection went live in mid-August and already contains more than 70 reports, studies, and journal articles that “address the impact of broadband and digital inclusion on community and individual well-being.” The tool is an ever-growing resource and the creators are accepting suggestions to help expand the database.

Users can search the Broadband Research Base to find desired documents by several methods, including title, keyword, broad category, and more specific subcategory. Tags can also help users discover what they’re looking for and each reference has a link to the source.

Check out this excellent tool from the NDIA and the Brookings Institution and help find more excellent resources to add to the Broadband Research Base. Submit your organization's work and grow the database to help share knowledge about broadband and its impact on society.

Posted August 28, 2019 by htrostle

In July, the Community Affairs Department of the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City released Disconnected: Seven Lessons on Fixing the Digital Divide, a report that touches on Internet access, adoption, and affordability. Overall, this is an insightful primer on the digital divide and how banks can help. 

The CRA and the Digital Divide

Banks have a responsibility to invest in disadvantaged communities under the Community Reinvestment Act. The report broadly outlines the state of high-speed Internet access, including the differences between rural and urban access problems, and explains why the digital divide remains so persistent.

Part of the problem is that our data on Internet access and adoption is woefully lacking. The report includes a section on how FCC data overstates coverage and compares it to the ways Microsoft has attempted to verify actual home Internet connections: 

“The FCC’s data measure availability of broadband while the Microsoft data measure broadband usage. The company shared its analysis with the FCC, which is looking at how it might improve its broadband measurements. While the FCC says 24.7 million Americans lack access to broadband, Microsoft found the actual number was 162.8 million.” (P. 26)

Another related problem that the report identifies is that the technology needed for high-speed Internet access seems to be constantly changing. Companies do not continue to invest consistently in rural or low- and middle- income communities, leaving both with last-generation networks. At the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, we've learned from years of research that fiber connectivity has the ability to meet current and future needs.

Closing the Digital Divide

Expanding high-speed Internet access can expand access to banking. The report notes that:

“Among low-income households, research by the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City shows that lacking Internet access has a higher correlation to being unbanked than a variety of other characteristics, including employment status and race.” (P. 11) 

Supporting community networks is one way banks can improve high-speed Internet access, and our research appears throughout the report. One of the example explained...

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