Tag: "digital divide"

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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Posted June 17, 2019 by lgonzalez

Finding the right moment to move forward with a publicly owned broadband infrastructure investment isn’t always cut and dry. Davis, California, has considered the possibilities for the past three years and at the June city council meeting, decided to assign city staff the task of examining the details of an incremental fiber optic network deployment. “We can’t approve a municipal fiber network today,” Councilman Will Arnold said, “but we can kill it, and I’m not willing to do that.”

Broadband Advisory Task Force

Davis’s Broadband Advisory Task Force (BATF) recommended to the city council that Davis move forward with developing a fiber optic network. The task force has examined the issue since it was formed in 2016, at the urging of citizens who formed a group calling themselves DavisGIG. The group’s main purpose has been to encourage the city to begin the process of examining the possibility of developing a Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network.

The city hired Finley Engineering and CCG Consulting, which worked together to deliver results of a feasibility study with recommendations in March 2018. They concluded that a citywide build out funded completely with one bond issue wasn’t feasible. In their opinion, Davis would require additional funding, such as sales tax or property taxes. Citywide deployment, which consultants estimate to be around $106.7 million, would be high due to poor pole condition, labor costs, and high housing density. An incremental approach, however, is a goal that Davis should consider.

Read the feasibility study here [pdf].

logo-davis-ca.jpgStill Needed

The consultants found that Davis would certainly benefit from a publicly owned fiber network. A significant digital divide problem and lack of choice in Davis has residents and businesses caught with few options. After examining possible models, Finley and CCG suggested that...

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Posted May 15, 2019 by lgonzalez

Local communities continue to search for ways to tackle the digital divide and in San Francisco, the city is making strides by working with a local Internet access company. The City by the Bay and ISP Monkeybrains have adopted a new model to bring high-quality connectivity to residents in public housing. The approach not only creates new opportunities for people who were once denied economic and educational opportunities, but does so in a way that is financially self-sustaining. With modest maintenance and start-up costs, Monkeybrains and San Francisco has found a way to bring the same high-speed Internet access to low-income households at an affordable rate. Read our new report, A Public Housing Digital Inclusion Blueprint: Monkeybrains and San Francisco Deliver a Sustainable Gig, to learn how the partners found a way to shrink the digital divide in public housing facilities.

Download A Public Housing Digital Inclusion Blueprint: Monkeybrains and San Francisco Deliver a Sustainable Gig [pdf], here.

Lessons for More Communities

Every community, regardless of population, must contend with digital inequity. As local communities continue to recognize all residents’ need for high-quality Internet access, models such as the approach developed by Monkeybrains and San Francisco spark further innovation. 

From Christopher:

“These households need Internet access to search for jobs, improve their education, access government services, and for many other reasons common to modern living. Monkeybrains' work in San Francisco shows how smart one time investments in public housing can guarantee high-quality access to all in public housing.”

Posted May 2, 2019 by lgonzalez

Local communities continue to search for ways to tackle the digital divide and in San Francisco, the city is making strides by working with a local Internet access company. The City by the Bay and ISP Monkeybrains have adopted a new model to bring high-quality connectivity to residents in public housing. The approach not only creates new opportunities for people who were once denied economic and educational opportunities, but does so in a way that is financially self-sustaining. With modest maintenance and start-up costs, Monkeybrains and San Francisco has found a way to bring the same high-speed Internet access to low-income households at an affordable rate. Read our new report, A Public Housing Digital Inclusion Blueprint: Monkeybrains and San Francisco Deliver a Sustainable Gig, to learn how the partners found a way to shrink the digital divide in public housing facilities.

Download A Public Housing Digital Inclusion Blueprint: Monkeybrains and San Francisco Deliver a Sustainable Gig [pdf], here.

A few national ISPs offer programs for households considered low-income, but those services only offer slow and typically unreliable connections. The program that Monkeybrains and San Francisco has created provides high-speed Internet access to public housing units at no cost to the end user. In some cases, the ISP does receive a monthly payment of $10 per unit from building management. No matter what, each user receives the same level of customer service and support as those who pay standard monthly rates. From the beginning, the goal was to bring the same level of service to subscribers in public housing as Monkeybrains subscribers throughout the city.

We spoke with Preston Rhea and Mason Carroll from Monkeybrains back in 2017, when we first learned about the plan, which was still being developed. You can listen to episode 264 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast...

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