WASHINGTON, July 23, 2018 - In rural America, data-driven tools and libraries are heading efforts to expand broadband access, according to broadband policy experts.
On July 18, BroadbandUSA hosted a webinar “Statewide Strategies for Rural Digital Inclusion,” discussing state-level measures to extend broadband access to unserved rural areas.
Amy Huffman, a research and policy analyst at the North Carolina Department of Technology, stressed the importance of utilizing data to improve broadband access.
North Carolina’s Broadband Infrastructure Office has developed data-driven policies, built around tools that collect data from communities across the state. One example is the Speed Reporting Tool which allows businesses to report whether they have access to broadband and at what speeds.
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Another effort is the community broadband playbook, which provides businesses with the steps to improve broadband in their community.
The North Carolina State Broadband Plan, developed for release in 2016, was created to close the digital divide in North Carolina. The plan aims to increase the percentage of households with access to broadband to 100 percent by June 2021.
In North Carolina, 93 percent of households have access, slightly above the average of 92 percent throughout the U.S., according to BroadbandNow.
Despite being above average, the digital divide remains a large problem. According to a 2016 report, 89 percent of the households in North Carolina without broadband access are located in low population areas. Even worse, 99 percent of people in North Carolina’s tribal lands lack sufficient broadband access as defined by the FCC as 25 Mbps download and 3 Mbps upload (25/3).
According to Amy Huffman, research and policy specialist for the broadband office within the North Carolina state government, common barriers to broadband adoption are cost, digital literacy, relevancy and access.
Community centers and libraries still play a key role
In Oklahoma, efforts to expand broadband adoption focus on providing broadband access and education at community centers such as libraries.
Susan McVey, Director of the Oklahoma department of libraries, suggested the importance of analyzing locational differences
“It’s a good idea to start with a sense of where you are,” McVey said. “Most of the rural areas in Oklahoma are limited in funding.”
On the statewide level, McVey suggested reaching out to state libraries. “It is a group of professionals that are going to be well-familiar and related to the public libraries across the state,” McVey said. According to McVey, all of the libraries in her state have high speed broadband connection and are open to those living in library’s county.
Even people that have access to broadband may be unwilling or reluctant to use it. Libraries often can be centers to encourage people that may be reluctant to use broadband to adopt its use.
“It’s difficult, it’s challenging, it’s going to cost money,” McVey said.
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