Tag: "digital divide"

Posted May 19, 2020 by Katie Kienbaum

Ever since the Covid-19 pandemic pushed schools online, rural cooperatives and other local broadband providers have been coming up with innovative ways to connect students during this difficult time. Ozarks Electric Cooperative, with its broadband subsidiary OzarksGo, is one of the co-ops that caught our eye over the past few weeks with its creative solution.

This week, Christopher speaks with Steven Bandy, General Manager of OzarksGo, about the history of the co-op's fiber network and its new efforts to expand broadband access during the pandemic. They discuss the beginnings of Ozarks Electric's Fiber-to-the-Home network and the co-op's plan to connect all of its members in growing Arkansas and Oklahoma communities. OzarksGo has even expanded into a nearby city where it doesn't offer electric service after seeing that the community needed better quality connectivity. Co-op members are extremely enthusasitc about the co-op's fiber network, and Steven explains how people moving to the area target the Ozarks Electric service territory in their home search.

Christopher and Steven also talk about the effects of the pandemic on the co-op's fiber network, which has seen an increase in interest. Steven shares how the cooperative is partnering with a local school district to connect Wi-Fi hotspots on busses and in community buildings with fiber optic backhaul. In addition to bringing broadband access to students in response to Covid-19, OzarksGo has also increased speeds at no cost to subscribers.

This show is 19 minutes long and can be played on this page or via iTunes or the tool of your choice ...

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Posted May 8, 2020 by Katie Kienbaum

Earlier this week, Community Broadband Networks Director Christopher Mitchell joined the radio talk show 1A, distributed by NPR, to talk about poor connectivity in rural America and how the Covid-19 pandemic is exacerbating existing digital divides. U.S. Representative Abigail Spanberger from Virginia and ranch owner Tiya Tonn from Kansas also called into the show.

Listen to the show.

Digging Into the Divide

Christopher and 1A’s other guests explained how rural Americans across the country, from the mountains of Appalachia to the plains of Kansas, struggle with inadequate Internet access. Broadband quality varies greatly, so some households must rely on spotty cell phone hotspots or fast food Wi-Fi networks while neighbors several miles down the road may have access to fiber optic connectivity.

1A logo

The pandemic is heightening the impacts of the rural digital divide on students and workers who now aren’t able to access their usual connectivity stopgaps, such as public Wi-Fi at libraries and schools. Tiya explained how the shaky broadband connection at her family’s ranch forces her to drive into town for routine activities, and her son spoke to the difficulties he experiences trying to attend online classes now that college campuses are closed.

But poor connectivity isn’t only a rural issue — people who lived near Houston and Columbus, Ohio, called into the show to share how they also can’t access high-speed broadband. Christopher added:

Even just three miles outside Chapel Hill, there are stories in North Carolina about people that are stuck on a technology that hasn’t been upgraded since before the kids that are in high school were born.

How to Expand Access

The guests also touched on government efforts to close the digital divide, particularly as Covid-19 highlights the connectivity crisis in rural America. Last week, Democrats in the U.S. House unveiled an updated plan to invest more than $80 billion in rural broadband expansion. Representative...

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Posted May 1, 2020 by Katie Kienbaum

Not only has the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic exposed our nation’s dire lack of medical equipment and protective gear, but it has also shone a light on the inadequacy of our rural broadband networks.

A recent CNN article, “Why rural Americans are having a hard time working from home,” by Harmeet Kaur, explores the many struggles that rural households face now that jobs, schools, and everything else has moved online and their outdated broadband connections can’t keep up.

“We Should Be Embarrassed”

CNN reports that while only 1.4 percent of urban Americans don’t have access to broadband speeds of at least 25 Megabits per second (Mbps) download and 3 Mbps upload, more than a quarter of rural households don’t have broadband available to them. And almost three quarters don’t have access to faster upload speeds of 25 Mbps.

These disparate stats are currently on display at parking lots across the country, as families without adequate home connectivity are forced to drive to open Wi-Fi hotspots and sit in their cars while completing assignments for school and work.

The article shared how one teacher in rural Virginia has turned her school’s parking lot into her new office:

Every Sunday since the coronavirus lockdown started, Stephanie Anstey drives 20 minutes from her home in Grottoes, Virginia, to sit in her school's near-empty parking lot and type away on her laptop. Anstey, a middle school history teacher, lives in a valley between two mountains, where the only available home internet option is a satellite connection. Her emails can take 30 seconds to load, only to quit mid-message. She can't even open files on Google Drive, let alone upload lesson modules or get on a Zoom call with colleagues.

“We are the country that created the internet,” Christopher Mitchell, Director of the Community Broadband Networks initiative, said in the article. “We should be embarrassed that millions of people have to drive to a closed library or a fast food restaurant in order to do their jobs or do their homework.”

High Costs, Slow Speeds

The CNN article points to a number of reasons for the dearth of high-quality Internet access throughout rural America.

Deploying broadband infrastructure is expensive in urban and rural communities, but in sparsely...

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Posted April 23, 2020 by Katie Kienbaum

Across the country, schools have shifted to distance learning after the Covid-19 pandemic resulted in widespread school closures and stay-at-home orders. But many students still can’t get online to learn. A recent survey of Los Angeles Schools found that 16 percent of students don’t have access to broadband and that 15 percent had not yet spoken with teachers.

To connect students on the wrong side of the digital divide, school districts in a number of cities, including Portland, Oregon and San Francisco, California, are working with Comcast to sponsor the cost of the company’s Internet Essentials program for low-income families in need of home broadband connections during the crisis.

In a press release, Guadalupe Guerrero, Superintendent of Portland Public Schools, said of the program:

As we transition from a traditional brick and mortar school experience to one that takes place online, it is more important than ever that we make every effort to remain connected to our students who rely on us for not only academics, but also essential needs and social and emotional supports. . . This partnership will allow us to stay connected to our students who need us most.

Schools Sponsor Student Service

To help ensure all students can access online education while schools are closed, San Francisco Unified School District (SFUSD) and Portland Public Schools (PPS) plan to pay the monthly cost of Comcast’s Internet Essentials plan for eligible households. The school systems will distribute promotional codes to families who can then contact the company to sign up for broadband access at no cost.

SFUSD logo

Internet Essentials is Comcast’s affordable broadband plan for low-income households that qualify for a variety of public assistance programs. The program currently offers speeds of 25 Megabits per second (Mbps) download and 3 Mbps upload. In response to the...

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Posted April 22, 2020 by Katie Kienbaum

Schools across the country have moved instruction online in response to the Covid-19 pandemic, but many students are struggling to log in and learn. We’ve written before about how schools, libraries, and Internet access providers are taking steps to connect students with Wi-Fi hotspots. Still, many kids don’t have access to appropriate devices they can use to complete online schoolwork. According to PCs for People, a digital inclusion nonprofit and computer refurbisher, almost a quarter of students don’t have a computer.

To overcome that barrier, PCs for People partnered with Schoolclosures.org, GoFundMe, and Google Fiber to launch the Give Computers project, which will connect unused computers sitting in empty corporate offices with students in need. The initiative will refurbish computers and other devices donated by businesses and send them to eligible students. Details and donation information are available online.

Donation and Distribution Details

PCs for People and its partners will welcome donations from all businesses, from large corporations to small mom-and-pop shops, as well as from individuals. Accepted equipment includes working and non-working laptops, desktops, tablets, and computer accessories. PCs for People, which has an NAID AAA certification for data sanitization and R2 certification for e-waste recycling, will securely erase any data on the devices and restore the computers to operable condition, recycling any unusable devices or materials. More information is available in the Give Computers FAQ.

Submit an inquiry online if you wish to donate. PCs for People will help set up shipping or a free pickup for the equipment.

If your child or another student you know needs a device to complete online schoolwork and meets PCs for People’s eligibility guidelines, you can ...

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Posted April 21, 2020 by Katie Kienbaum

Our lives have mostly moved online as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, but the millions of Americans who don't have access to home broadband have been left behind. Whether it's unavailable or just unaffordable, these families must risk their health to access essential services, like healthcare and education.

This week for the Community Broadband Bits podcast, Christopher talks with Angela Siefer, Executive Director of the National Digital Inclusion Alliance (NDIA), about the many ways that the pandemic has highlighted digital divides in our country. Angela shares how NDIA is helping address urgent connectivity needs by supporting digital inclusion practitioners on the ground and by raising public awareness during the crisis.

One of NDIA's efforts is their list of Free and Low-Cost Internet Plans from national broadband providers. Christopher and Angela review some of the providers' offers and discuss the problems that NDIA has found with the plans. (Spoiler: Comcast is doing, well, pretty good actually. Charter Spectrum on the other hand . . . ) Angela explains why it's important that these plans serve more than just students if we want to keep people safe at home.

The pair also talk about creative efforts to temporarily deploy public Wi-Fi hotspots as well as longer term plans to improve broadband access and availability. However, Angela reminds...

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Posted March 26, 2020 by Katie Kienbaum

Early last month, before the spread of the novel coronavirus turned staying home from a quiet night in into a moral imperative, Christopher traveled to North Carolina to attend the Institute for Emerging Issues Forum at North Carolina State University. While there, he interviewed Leslie Boney, Director of the Institute for Emerging Issues. He also spoke with Darren Smith from Wilson's Gig East Exchange and Ron Townley from the Upper Coastal Plain Council of Governments.

We wanted to share their conversation as a special episode of the "Why NC Broadband Matters" podcast series we've been working on with NC Broadband Matters. The nonprofit organization works to connect communities across North Carolina, bringing high-quality broadband access to residents and businesses.

logo-nc-hearts-gigabit.png Christopher and Leslie discuss the Institute for Emerging Issues, and Leslie describes how they developed the theme of the forum, ReCONNECT. They talk about the importance of not only expanding broadband infrstructure but making sure people and businesses can take advantage of technology. Leslie explains why rural and urban communities rely on eachother and both deserve investment in digital inclusion.

After Leslie leaves, Darren and Ron share what's happening in Wilson and eastern North Carolina. They reflect on their experience at the forum. Darren talks about Wilson's new innovation hub, the Gig East Exchange, and how the city is...

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Posted March 24, 2020 by Katie Kienbaum

Not even a pandemic can stop this week's guest, US Internet CEO Travis Carter, from finding ways to bring better connectivity to his company's subscribers and the community.

For the 400th episode of the Community Broadband Bits podcast, Christopher interviewed Travis (from six feet away) at the US Internet office outside Minneapolis, Minnesota. The pair discuss how the ISP is responding to the crisis, including by limiting home installs and opening up access to its public Wi-Fi network. As people transition to remote work, online education, and digital entertainment, Travis explains how the network is experiencing increased interest from new customers and greater demand from current subscribers.

Christopher and Travis also talk about US Internet's pilot project in low-income housing and how the ISP is trying to determine what barriers prevent households from signing up for the service. Travis describes some of the funding challenges he faces as he expands the network throughout the city and how US Internet differentiates itself in terms of reliability. Before closing the interview, he shares his disappointing experience with mobile connectivity during a big roadtrip he took last summer, arguing that wireless networks can never replace fiber.

Travis was previously a guest on Community Broadband Bits episdoes 359 - An Insider's Perspective on Urban Fiber Deployment, 301 - Wireless and Wired; US Internet Knows Both, and...

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Posted March 19, 2020 by christopher

With everything from shelter-in-place orders to partying on Florida beaches, Internet Service Providers (ISPs) across the country have had to figure out their own responses to Covid-19. We reached out to a mix to get a sense of what they are seeing and how they are adapting.

Some ISPs have cut all installs and have disbanded their offices as much as possible to work remotely and try to prevent spread of the novel coronavirus. Others have detailed new protocols. Almost all are seeing some increases in bandwidth usage. Lots of ISPs have special, temporary offers to get low-income families signed up during this time of need.

Bandwidth Booms

When it comes to usage, we are seeing a lot more activity. We don't have enough evidence to confirm our recent predictions, but things are more or less where we expected. Most networks usually have peak activity in evening prime time hours, and that remains true. The daytime peaks are expanding, but 4K streaming is keeping those evening peaks much larger. 

At Sonic, California's largest independent ISP, they have seen an increase of 25 percent in evening peak, which is remarkable, but well within the capacity of their network to handle it.

In talking to a few fiber and well-regarded fixed wireless ISPs, they are not seeing any signs that their network cannot handle the growing demand. Many have reported that they are performing middle mile...

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Posted February 20, 2020 by lgonzalez

Determining the state of broadband in a local community can be challenging for professional who conduct surveys and develop feasibility studies. Finding out the same information on a state level is an even more complex task. Nevertheless, North Carolina is tackling the job and earlier this month, the N.C. Department of Information Technology (NCDIT) shared data indices that shine a light on the state of broadband access, adoption, and how the digital divide plays out across the state.

It's More than Mapping

In December 2019, we spoke with Jeff Sural, Director of the Broadband Infrastructure Office for the North Carolina Department of Information Technology, who discussed their work in mapping and examining the Office's attempts to gather a more accurate picture of how and where people in the state use and access the Internet.

Listen to them discuss the project here. They talked as part of our special series on North Carolina connectivity that we're creating in collaboration with NC Broadband Matters:

The indices look at county-level data and reveal a variety of factors. Some results are a stark reality that the digital divide has widened as technology in some regions has advanced — such as indicators that show people have only DSL service and no Internet access at all juxtaposed against those communities where a majority of folks subscribe to available fiber optic connectivity.

These indices were designed...

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