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Promoting the Use of the Internet by Seniors in Public Housing

LAKE FOREST, Ill., July 26, 2009 – Every public housing authority in the United States should apply for stimulus funding from the National Telecommunications and Information Administration to set up a program to promote the benefits and use of the Internet for its senior housing residents. The goal should be to make the case for the practical benefits of broadband and the Internet sufficiently compelling so that seniors would want a computer and internet connection in their individual units.

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Editor’s Note: The following guest commentary appears by special invitation of BroadbandCensus.com. BroadbandCensus.com does not necessary endorse the views in the commentary, but invites officials, experts and individuals interested in the state of broadband to offer commentaries of their own. To offer a commentary, please e-mail commentary@broadbandcensus.com. Not all commentaries may be published.

The staff of BroadbandCensus.com has produced a four-page report on the essentials of the Broadband Initiative Program-Broadband Technology Opportunities Program Notice of Funds Availability, which is available for purchase for $25.00, at http://broadbandcensus.com/special-reports.

By Don Samuelson, Guest Commentary, BroadbandCensus.com

LAKE FOREST, Ill., July 26, 2009 – Every public housing authority in the United States should apply for stimulus funding from the National Telecommunications and Information Administration to set up a program to promote the benefits and use of the Internet for its senior housing residents. The goal should be to make the case for the practical benefits of broadband and the Internet sufficiently compelling so that seniors would want a computer and internet connection in their individual units. The use of the Internet should be as valuable as a TV or a phone. This is a “value proposition” that remains to be made.

Accessing the Broadband Technology Opportunities Program for the Senior Market

Two of the statutory purposes of BTOP are to provide broadband education, awareness, training, access, equipment and support to vulnerable populations (e.g. residents of public housing), and to stimulate demand for broadband. An overview of “Sustainable Broadband Adoption” and the actual application can be found at: http://broadbandusa.sc.egov.usda.gov/presentations/SustainableAdoption.pdf and
http://broadbandusa.sc.egov.usda.gov/download_app.htm.

While there are 47 elements in the application, the key information to be provided involves 20 pages of unique project narrative covering: executive summary (2 pages), project purpose (2 pages), innovative approach (1 page), number and qualifications of instructors (1 page), awareness campaign (2 pages), impact evaluation (1 page), technical strategy (2 pages), management team resumes (1 page per person), organizational readiness (1 page), project timeline and challenges (2 pages), budget narrative (2 pages) and budget reasonableness (1 page). Further guidance on these topics can be found at “Grant Guidelines” for BTOP: www.broadbandusa.gov in Section C: Sustainable Adoption at pages 88 to 114.

The basic objective of “sustainable adoption” for public housing authorities is to increase the number of public housing residents using broadband and the Internet and to increase their use of the Internet on a sustained basis. The most obvious market to be served are the seniors currently living in public housing buildings. The core “market” could be easily extended to include seniors with vouchers, seniors on the waiting list, seniors using local senior centers, and seniors living in the census tracts where the senior building is located.

Since the purpose of the BTOP program is to increase the adoption and use by seniors of the Internet, a baseline will have to be established for the target markets. Demographic information is required in the application. There needs to be additional information collected – on an individual basis – on the current capacities of residents to use computers and the Internet. Do residents have an e-mail address? Do they have an internet connection? Do they have a personal computer? How are they currently using their internet connection? A base line of fluency and interests can be easily established, through a survey form. Good market research should be the start of program outreach.

The Determination of Customer Interest

Seniors are going to have to see practical value – to them – through the use of the Internet in order for them to get involved in a serious way. I’ve found that interest can be best generated by determining the current interests of seniors. How do they spend their time now? What are their interests? What are their problems? Are there ways that their current activities and interests can be enhanced through broadband and the Internet?

The goal is to demonstrate how current activities and interests can be made easier, faster and less costly through the use of the Internet. I’ve developed a formula for this: Buyer Satisfaction is a Function of Perceived Value times Frequency of Use.

In the senior computer learning centers I’ve operated in the past, the “hot buttons” of interest to seniors have been: (1) easier connections with children, grandchildren and the extended family; (2) online access to government resources and services; (3) online healthcare information and contacts; (4) social networking in areas of common interests; (5) the development of new skill, e.g. learning to type; online education/training; and (6) games and hobbies. The way to start is with one-on-one conversations to find out the interests of Senior A, and then consider how those interests could be advanced by the Internet. Then go through the same process with seniors B through Z. At the end of 26 interviews – easily done within a week – there would be a comprehensive collection of resident interests that could become the foundation for the Internet instructional programs. The skills to be developed would already be known to have relevance.

The Elements of the Building Learning Network and Conducting Outreach

The physical network to be developed will consist of a Computer Training Center, computing devices in the individual living units and internet connections to instructional materials, applications and storage. In the CTC there will be: (1) an internet connection; (2) an instructor’s station; (3) desktop devices, such as personal computers, refurbished PCs, or “thin clients.” The benefits of thin clients are related to initial purchasing costs, reduced maintenance costs and the simplicity of upgrading and adding software.

The CTC will have an electronic whiteboard, so that teaching/learning can be provided to an larger-sized audience of 24 to 30 people, than the four to eight that can actually sit in front of a computer in the center. The most important part of the network will be the devices with internet connections so that individual seniors can have continual access to broadband and the Internet, with the on-site CTC performing the functions of initial training and instruction in special applications. The bulk of the work will take place in the individual unit when seniors have concluded that the benefits of the Internet and broadband are increasingly indispensable to their needs and interests.

Initially, communications concerning internet benefits will be accomplished by flyers, white-board presentations, small group meetings and word-of-mouth. As more residents get on-line and as case-examples and testimonials are developed, an increasing amount of outreach can take place on-line, with enthusiastic support from children, grandchildren and friends who are thrilled to have mom or grandma online.

After initial steps are taken, the seniors can be directed to two four-week courses that
create a foundation for computer and internet literacy. The objective is to teach and certify the basics resulting in a “driver’s license” to navigate the information superhighway. The goal of the training is to develop the skills so that seniors can further their individual interests that prompted them to participate in the program in the first place. The first form of training is formal classroom instruction using the white board and computers. The second would involve open lab time with advanced seniors helping their colleagues. The third will take place in the individual units when the senior accepts the values of the computer, broadband and the Internet.

Some Thoughts on Infrastructure and Costs

The broadband connection to the building can be made to a local area network in the computer center, and through a combination of Ethernet and wireless connections throughout the building. Substantial savings in equipment acquisition and maintenance can be realized if “thin clients” are used in both the computer training center and in the individual units. The storage, computational power and software applications could be hosted in internet-accessible servers on-site or through a “cloud computing” system. The objective is to make access to the instructional tools and software applications available anywhere there is an internet browser connection – at any time and any place.

All of these considerations have to be developed into the technical plan outlined in the BTOP application. All of the specifications and program costs for hardware, software, connectivity and instruction have to be set out in the program budget and explained in detail in a budget narrative.

The goal of the BTOP sustainable adoption program is to make the value proposition sufficiently compelling that seniors will move from building-supported training to an internet-connected device in their units that are central to their lives.

Donald S. Samuelson has more than 30 years of experience in government-assisted housing and real estate development. He has a passion for applying broadband to provide solutions in the fields of education and training. E-mail him at DSSA310@aol.com, or contact him by phone at 847-420-1732.

Broadband Mapping & Data

Kirsten Compitello: The Need for a Digital Equity Focus on Broadband Mapping

Incorporating equitable processes and outcomes from the start is crucial to avoid perpetuating continued inequalities.

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The author of this Expert Opinion is Kirsten Compitello, National Broadband Digital Equity Director at Michael Baker International

Broadband for all is in the spotlight right now, and closing the digital divide is recognized as a national priority. The divide goes far beyond access and touches issues of costs, ownership, culture, awareness, skills, and more. As we enter into a period of major statewide planning and deployment efforts, incorporating equitable processes and outcomes from the start is crucial to avoid perpetuating continued inequalities in access, adoption, and literacy.

Digital equity is not just a value statement: it’s a commitment to inclusive and equitable decision making at every stage of broadband deployment, from planning to service delivery.

Ensuring equitable representation at the table

Embedding digital equity analysis into mapping is especially critical at this moment in time as we prepare for historic broadband funding. This funding is an opportunity to rebalance systemic patterns of exclusion and ensure rapidly deployed planning and implementation funds are fairly dispersed.

The Digital Equity Act provides $2.75 billion to establish three grant programs that promote digital equity and inclusion, including the State Digital Equity Planning Grant Program, a $60 million grant program for states and territories to develop digital equity plans. In creating these Statewide Digital Equity Plans, extensive outreach to and collaboration with underserved, unserved and historically marginalized populations will prove critical. These discussions will be much more informative and effective in guiding successful policies, programs and projects if they are rooted in clear understanding of social, economic and environmental patterns alongside broadband access maps.

Documenting the effects of digital exclusion

Access is not an equal term: reducing it simply to speed of service available neglects the social and economic complexities that determine how and where users are affected by a lack of broadband. In short, mapping where the infrastructure exists only tells part of the story. Data analysis needs to layer in demographic and economic information in order to reveal patterns of exclusion and identify root causes.

To better understand community impacts, our team at Michael Baker developed data visualization tools such as a Digital Equity Atlas which takes the next step toward analyzing how broadband gaps disproportionately impact segments of the population. The methodology looks at Title VI and Environmental Justice data to reveal where poor connectivity correlates to social factors including low income, senior populations, English as a Second Language, households without a vehicle and more. As an example, the Southwestern Pennsylvania Commission leveraged the Digital Equity Atlas to prioritize new broadband expansion projects that stand to benefit the greatest number of at-risk or marginalized households. These households should not be last in line to see broadband investment finally bringing greater connectivity and opportunities to their doorsteps.

Fulfilling Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment program requirements

Federal reporting requirements for upcoming Investment in Infrastructure and Jobs Act funding call for a proven and documented understanding and analysis of digital equity needs, from planning to projects in the ground.

The IIJA’s Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment Program provides $42.45 billion to expand broadband access by funding planning, infrastructure deployment and adoption programs across the country. Statewide Five-Year Action Plans, funded through this program, will require government agencies and their partners to take an integrated digital equity approach.

From planning through the ensuing reporting requirements, establishing digital equity strategies and a clear rubric for measuring success in achieving digital equity goals is a must for agencies. These entities must demonstrate how projects funded through BEAD improve digital equity. A strong data-driven baseline – such as the Digital Equity Atlas – will be a necessary starting point for agencies to track and monitor the effect of each new deployment on surrounding households. These data-driven metrics will also be a win for state and local governments to tell the story of their successes with clear data to back it up.

Setting a goal for sustainable inclusivity

As the consumption of internet content continues to rise and as broadband for all projects bring connectivity to the unserved, baseline expectations for broadband service and speed will only continue to grow. If we aren’t careful, new categories of have-nots will emerge: for example, those who pay high fees for minimum speeds versus those with lower fees for premier plans and Gig speeds. The currently unserved will gain access to service, but many will continue to struggle with basic internet skills, navigating through complex terms of service, or even simply finding time to schedule installation without missing a day of work.

To create a truly equitable society, everyone – no matter age, ability, location or status – needs access to affordable and reliable broadband; internet-connected devices; education on digital technology and best use practices; tech support and online resources that help users participate, collaborate and work independently.

By grounding our planning in equitable practices from the very first step, we can help to ensure that everyone is able to benefit from Internet for All.

Kirsten Compitello, AICP, is the National Broadband Digital Equity Director at Michael Baker International. This piece is exclusive to Broadband Breakfast.

Broadband Breakfast accepts commentary from informed observers of the broadband scene. Please send pieces to commentary@breakfast.media. The views expressed in Expert Opinion pieces do not necessarily reflect the views of Broadband Breakfast and Breakfast Media LLC.

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Broadband's Impact

Dianne Crocker: Recession Fears Have Real Estate Market Forecasters Hitting the Reset Button

Growing fears of recession trigger pullback on previous rosy forecasts.

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The author of this Expert Opinion is Dianne Crocker, Principal Analyst for LightBox

The lyrics to “Same As It Ever Was” by the Talking Heads certainly don’t apply to how 2022 is playing out in the commercial real estate market. Two quarters of negative economic growth has put a damper on market sentiment and triggered fears that the U.S. economy is heading for a recession. By midyear, market analysts were taking a good, hard look at their rosy forecasts from the start of the New Year and redrawing the lines.

Once upon a time…

At the start of 2022, forecasters were bullishly predicting that commercial real estate investment and lending levels would be nearly as good as 2021. This was significant, considering that 2021 set new records for deal-making and lending volume as the debt and equity capital amassed during the pandemic while looking for a home in U.S. commercial real estate.

What a difference a few quarters have made. Virtually, all the predictions that started the New Year were obsolete by mid-summer. The abrupt shift in market conditions is palpable and surprised just about everyone. Now, markets are reaching an inflection point that is in sharp contrast with the strong rebound of last year.

The two I’s: Inflation and interest rates

At the core of the recent upset in market sentiment is the persistence of high inflation, which seems to be ignoring all attempts by the Federal Reserve to raise interest rates and bring prices down. Higher inflation is having a ripple effect throughout the economy, pushing up the costs of construction materials, energy, and consumer goods. Among the notable economic indicators showing stress at mid-year was the GDP, which fell for the second consecutive quarter, and the Consumer Price Index, which jumped 9.1% year-over-year in June – the highest increase in about four decades.

In July, the CPI fell to 8.5%, an encouraging sign that inflation was beginning to stabilize. By the latest August report from LightBox, however, hopes were dashed when the CPI showed little improvement, holding firm at a still high of 8.3%.

The market is responding to a higher cost of capital as lenders tap the brakes. As the cost of capital rises with each interest rate hike and concerns of a recession intensify, many large U.S. financial institutions are pulling back on their loan originations for the rest of 2022 and into 2023. This change in tenor is a significant shift, given that 2021 was a record-breaking year for commercial real estate lending. Many lenders have already shifted to a more defensive underwriting position as they look to mitigate risks.

The Mortgage Bankers Association, which had previously predicted that lending levels in 2022 would break the $1 trillion mark for the first time revised their forecast downward in mid-July. By year-end, the MBA now expects volume to be a significant 18% below 2021 levels—and one-third lower than the bullish forecast made in February. Now, investment activity is cooling as higher borrowing costs drive some buyers from the market.

In the investment world, transactions were down by 29% at midyear due to a thinning buyer pool as higher rates impact access to debt capital. Market volatility is causing investors, lenders, and owners to rethink strategies, reconsider assumptions, and prepare for possible disruption.

Looking ahead to year-end and 2023

The rapid and diverse shifts in the market make for an uncertain forecast and certainly a more cautious investment environment. The battle between inflation and interest rates will continue over the near term. As LightBox’s investor, lender, valuation, and environmental due diligence clients move toward the 4th quarter—typically the busiest quarter of the year–unprecedented volatility is driving them to recalibrate and reforecast given recent market developments.

Continued softness in transaction volume is likely to continue as rates and valuations establish a new equilibrium. If property prices begin to level out, there will be more pressure on buyers to consider how to improve a property to get their return on investment. The next chapter of the commercial real estate market will be defined by how long inflation sticks around, how high interest rates go, and whether the economy slips into a recession (and how deeply). The greatest areas of opportunity will be found in asset classes like office and retail that are evolving away from traditional uses and morphing to meet the needs of today’s market. Until barometers stabilize, it’s important to rethink assumptions, watch developments, and recalibrate as necessary.

Dianne Crocker is the Principal Analyst for LightBox, delivering strategic analytics, best practices in risk management, market intelligence reports, educational seminars, and customized research for stakeholders in commercial real estate deals. She is a highly respected expert on commercial real estate market trends. This piece is exclusive to Broadband Breakfast.

Broadband Breakfast accepts commentary from informed observers of the broadband scene. Please send pieces to commentary@breakfast.media. The views reflected in Expert Opinion pieces do not necessarily reflect the views of Broadband Breakfast and Breakfast Media LLC.

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Expert Opinion

Jeff Pulver and Noah Rafalko: A Humble Request to the FCC on Robocalls

Blocking bad actors requires a whole new way of thinking, the authors say in this ExpertOp exclusive to Broadband Breakfast.

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The authors of this Expert Opinion are Jeff Pulver (left), innovator in VoIP and Noah Rafalko, is a pioneer in TNID

Should the Federal Communications Commission seek out alternative platforms to solve their 2022 spam, scam and robocall issues? Yes! Does Blockchain offer valuable solutions? Yes! We would like to ask the FCC to increase the width of their lens when it comes to deploying solutions to solve their growing number of systemic challenges.

Any action to stop robocall insanity and tech-driven scams would be welcome. While Americans deal with the linger pandemic, mass shootings, an uncertain economy and war in Europe, the constant annoyance from scammers and 4.1 billion robocalls a month is just too much. Most people have responded by literally giving up voice communications all together.

Recently implemented legislation called STIR/SHAKEN is a step in the right direction, but it is not a long-term solution. The FCC  is simply taking old standards and applying them to new technologies. New thinking is needed; the next generation of technology must be explored. And the most promising of the new tools to protect our telecommunications system from fraudulent players lies in blockchain.

The key to stopping these nefarious acts lies in a digital identity solution powered by blockchain – a shard database or ledger. An identity solution enables customers to be confident that the communication is truly from enterprises they know and trust.

With blockchain, only authorized and verified messages get through. Spam and robocalls are virtually eliminated in one shot. All that’s required is a slight change in how we approach communications.

In a world where consumers are already doing whatever they can to self-manage their identity, it isn’t a large leap of faith to imagine adding a certified, digital ID to our telephone numbers.

Consumers freely use their telephone numbers to attest and manage their identity – even more than they use their Social Security numbers, birthdays, mother’s maiden name and secret questions. In our current digital universe, consumers use their phone numbers to register for store discounts, receive health and safety alerts and even transfer money to others.

And in their effort to stop spam and robocalls, consumers willingly add apps such as Hiya, paying over $300 million a year to these intermediaries.

The FCC needs to evolve and embrace the technology that allows consumers and mobile carriers who have a shared stake in attesting their identities. They need to recognize that blockchain technology offers an elegant, all-encompassing solution to the $40 billion in fraud that consumers fall victim to every year.

It’s time we leveraged a solution that’s already being used in other countries such as India, where blockchain technology helps protect over 600 million citizens from spam and robocalls.

Back in 2004, when the future of telecommunications was being written, the FCC was challenged with laying down rules governing Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP). At that time, we hosted brown-bag lunches for Congress, and held open demonstration days at the FCC as well as a mini-trade show on the Hill in our effort to inform and educate Congress, staffers and other government employees on the latest and greatest innovations in Internet communications technology.

The FCC would be wise to revisit this practice of show and tell where they hear from the innovators of new game-changing technologies that can solve their biggest concerns. It certainly is wiser than simply taking advice handed down from lobbyists and relying on legislation that’s severely limited and unenforceable.

When the FCC uses its influence to investigate and embrace new and innovative technologies, they can finally make significant headway in restoring trust in the quality of service associated with our communications.

Jeff Pulver is an innovator in the field of Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP). He was instrumental in changing how the FCC classified VoIP in 2004, paving the way for the development of video and voice internet communications. The co-founder of Vonage, Jeff has invested in over 400 start-ups. 

Noah Rafalko is a pioneer in TNID (Telephone Number ID), a blockchain solution that restores trust in communications. Noah is founder and CEO of TSG Global, Inc. which provides voice, messaging and identity management services for SaaS companies and large enterprises. This piece is exclusive to Broadband Breakfast.

Broadband Breakfast accepts commentary from informed observers of the broadband scene. Please send pieces to commentary@breakfast.media. The views reflected in Expert Opinion pieces do not necessarily reflect the views of Broadband Breakfast and Breakfast Media LLC.

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