Better Broadband Better Lives

Panel at Schools, Health and Libraries Broadband Coalition Calls Attention to Online ‘Stars’ and ‘Cliques’

in Digital Inclusion by

WASHINGTON, June 7, 2017 – Providing broadband service to schools, libraries and other nonprofit organizations is more difficult than commercial customers because of the way they struggle with funding, said Katherine Messier of Mobile Beacon at a Friday panel at the 2017 conference of the Schools, Health, and Libraries Broadband Coalition.

Mobile Beacon, a nonprofit educational broadband provider, offers a discounted service to nonprofits for $10 a month. The company finds that while healthcare clients are the smallest group – with only 4 percent of the Mobile Beacon customer base – they often use the service to provide broadband access for their own patients.

The panel was moderated by Angela Siefer of the National Digital Inclusion Alliance, with panelists Messier, Casey Sorensen of PCs for Peoples and Samantha Schartman-Cyck of Connect Your Community.

Messier started by giving information about the customers served by Mobile Beacon. Schools have gravitated toward Mobile Beacon because of the mobility and low cost of its unlimited data service.

Libraries are different from schools and other nonprofits, she said, because libraries usually want Mobile Beacon to help their communities. By allowing customers to “check out” Mobile Beacon services, libraries have actually connected more people in their communities to the internet.

“At the end of the day, it’s about the individuals and how they’re affected,” she said.

Sorensen, of PCs for Peoples, talked about launching a program with Mobile Beacon to give computers and internet service to those who don’t have it. When he launched an internet program in 2012 that required an email address, half of the people who enrolled didn’t have an email or access to the Internet.

Because of the severe limitations imposed by data caps, he said, “halfway through the month, many weren’t able to do online classes anymore, so their grades dropped,” he said. “They dropped out of school.”

Schartman-Cyck talked about the different network roles that people held. She said there were three paradigmatic “roles”: Isolates, stars and cliques.

Isolates are usually older people without social connections, and stars are socialites who are seemingly connected to everyone, she said. Cliques are groups of people who are always connected to each other and influence each other to adopt new products. She added that 85 percent of people in a survey that she released said they were a star, clique or mix of both.

She said it was necessary to ask questions to build better products for everyone.

“It’s not a huge jump to start asking who they are supported by and who they support in their personal life and in their networks,” Schartman-Cyck said.

She wanted to push stars and cliques to spread the message of their products and help reach out to isolates.

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