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Designing, Implementing and Assessing an Internet Adoption Program for Senior Housing

LAKE FOREST, Ill., March 3, 2010 – On Tuesday, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration announced a brief delay for some applicants for broadband stimulus grants. Broadband Technologies Opportunity Program Comprehensive Community Infrastructure projects will have until March 26th to file their applications to NTIA. Applicants for Rural Utilities Service infrastructure projects will have until March 29th to file their applications to RUS.

But applicants for Applications in NTIA’s two other project categories – Public Computer Centers and Sustainable Broadband Adoption – remain due on March 15th. As regards these latter category of applications, we have found that there are three essential elements in the design and implementation of an effective broadband adoption program for seniors living in senior housing communities and for their surrounding neighborhoods.

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By Don S. Samuelson and Andrew Lowenstein

LAKE FOREST, Ill., March 3, 2010 – On Tuesday, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration announced a brief delay for some applicants for broadband stimulus grants. Broadband Technologies Opportunity Program Comprehensive Community Infrastructure projects will have until March 26th to file their applications to NTIA. Applicants for Rural Utilities Service infrastructure projects will have until March 29th to file their applications to RUS.

But applicants for Applications in NTIA’s two other project categories – Public Computer Centers and Sustainable Broadband Adoption – remain due on March 15th. As regards these latter category of applications, we have found that there are three essential elements in the design and implementation of an effective broadband adoption program for seniors living in senior housing communities and for their surrounding neighborhoods.

The first element involves the establishment of a solid base line of information on each given community which can function as a starting point. This will include: (1) demographic and background data on the senior population; (2) questionnaires on their existing familiarity with and use of typewriters, computers and the Internet; and (3) surveys of their initial thoughts on how computers and the Internet might be useful to them and which Internet skills they would like to develop.

The second element involves the “intervention strategies,” the approaches and programs used to raise the awareness levels of seniors with respect to the personal and practical benefits that can result from the broadband/Internet skills and applications. It also involves offline and on-line education training most effective in developing those skills.

The third element involves ongoing and post-program evaluation. What Internet skills were actually developed? How are the skills being used? Was there testing? Did “offline” seniors become online Internet subscribers? What did it take/cost to convert a previously offline senior to an active user with an Internet account: A certification of a “driver’s license” level of computer/Internet competence for travel on the information superhighway? The personal ownership of an Internet device and broadband connectivity? What can be done to make awareness raising efforts, the education and training and the sustained use of the Internet more efficient and fun? How can the overall process be improved? How can it become more cost-effective. Were the increases in the appreciation and use of the Internet results justified by the costs?

Developing the Base Line of Information

The BTOP Sustainable Broadband Adoption (SBA) application lists a number of categories for which information is to be collected: age/birthdate, ethnicity, gender, household income, educational achievement, the nature of disabilities, the employment status of the individual and the primary and secondary language of the seniors.

This information creates a simple base line for the demographic profile of a user community, but the authors of this paper recommend collecting more specific data that can help in the design and success of individual adoption program content. This additional information includes the name of the individual, their unit number, phone number, marital status, number of years living in the building, family and friends, places of residence, education, work experience and hobbies – any of which could suggest areas of interest that could be supported by the use of e-mail and the Internet.

The background survey information collected on the senior can be gathered during an informal discussion. No computer is involved. The other goal of this discussion is to make a human connection and to promote bonding and trust.

A second category of information to be collected relates to the prior experience of the senior with typewriters, other office equipment, business or office work or involvement in informal or volunteer organizational settings. Experience in organizing holiday dinners, picnics, family reunions are examples of organizational skills that may not be thought of as such. The informal one-on-one conversations will lead into all sorts of background information that have relevance to the underlying purposes of Internet/broadband adoption if not to the obvious utility of the skills. Those points can be made later in classroom settings, in computer labs or in conversations with other seniors “around the water cooler.”

This category will also involve questions about computer experiences at school, home or work, the interest of the senior in developing or improving Internet skills and specific questions about a cell phone, an e-mail address, a computer and a broadband connection. The last question will ask the senior to assess their own computer/Internet skills on a scale of zero to 10. The goal is to determine Internet literacy and fluency prior to the intervention of awareness raising, education or training.

The third category of information to be generated for the survey relates to the expression of initial interest of each senior to possible Internet skills: (1) connecting to children and grandchildren; (2) setting up an e-mail account; (3) sending and receiving messages; (4) attaching documents and photos to messages; (5) learning to use Google and other search engines; (6) accessing information on healthcare, Medicare, Medicaid or drug programs; (7) budgeting, banking and paying bills; (8) accessing online games and entertainment; (9) accessing government financial support programs; and (10) connecting to hobbies and interest groups.

The overall goal of this data collection is to understand the experience and interests of the senior so that the benefits of Internet skills and applications can be real, practical and personal.

Designing and Implementing the Intervention Strategy

The basic goal of the intervention strategy is to illustrate the practical benefits of the Internet sufficiently that prospective program participants will see personal value in passing through a progression of interim steps to becoming an active user of the Internet and a subscriber to a broadband Internet service.

Crossing the digital divide to become an Internet subscriber is a process, not a single act. The Sustainable Broadband Adoption application recognizes that there are a number of steps involved in crossing the Digital Divide and being actively online. The authors of this article propose seven specific steps to help a senior advance from being offline and uninformed about Internet benefits to being an active Internet user and subscriber.

Awareness Raising

The first step is to use normal communication processes like flyers, printed materials, “announcements” and group meetings to explain the benefits of broadband/Internet use that seniors have experienced from using the Internet. This is a general explanation of Internet benefits, so that seniors can identify areas of possible personal benefit to them.

Particularizing the Benefits to the Individual

The second step is to make an initial assessment of an individual’s “offline” interests and experiences as well as his/her basic level of comfort and knowledge with computers and the Internet. This helps the educator determine how the individual’s existing interests might be enhanced through the Internet and broadband adoption and to engage in a friendly, non-technical discussion about how computer technology and the internet can help the individual explore his/her interests. Steps one and two are awareness raising activities.

Education and Training

The third step is to develop the basic knowledge and skills to be comfortable using a computer (mouse, keyboard, touch screen, etc.), as well as how to access basic programs and the web. This involves the implementation of a learning curriculum with group meetings, one-on-one tutoring, the use of the computer lab and hard copy handouts describing and illustrating the learning program. This process may utilize senior friendly software such as the Connected Living Internet Portal or other applications geared toward first time users.

Initial Evaluation and Additional Training

The fourth step is the post-training assessment to evaluate the results of the preliminary training and to develop a specific “case management-like” program for the development of additional Internet skills and confidence using particular interest to the senior.

Certification of Achievement – The “Driver’s License and the Computer”

The fifth step involves study for and the achievement of some level of certification on the Information Superhighway. The authors believe it is reasonable to require the recipients of subsidized broadband access and computer equipment to demonstrate their commitment by starting and completing a learning program, some combination of a physical program taught at the onsite computer learning center and a “virtual” program using distance learning materials specifically designed for seniors. The objective of this step is for the individual to pass a simple test and be awarded an Information Superhighway “Driver’s License.”

Actively Using the Internet

The sixth “step” is really a stage when the senior starts to use the Internet as part of the everyday routine, like waking up with coffee, reading the newspaper or using the phone. At this point in the process, the senior has crossed the Digital Divide and has “adopted” the Internet as a tool in their skill set.

Becoming a Subscriber

The seventh and final step is for the senior to conclude that broadband/Internet has demonstrated its value so that the senior regards it as a priority expenditure in the budget, whether fully paid for by the senior, or paying the remaining amount after subsidies through Universal Service of contributions made by the building. For seniors who can’t or won’t pay the subscription cost, there is always the option of using the onsite computer learning center and remaining an “active user.”

The authors feel that there are a number of key factors that have led to the significant adoption success results that Connected Living has experienced with their pilot project in Massachusetts and Illinois in 2008 and 2009. The senior “bonded” with the program through the initial one-on-one interviews that were directed to their particular interests and experiences. Registering with self-authored profiles to be part of a residential community created an instant network of seniors with like interests. The group discussions were good overviews of computers and the Internet and interesting topics of general interest to the seniors. Initially, the Internet was simply a vehicle to gather information of interest to the residents. Getting online quickly with an e-mail address and actual contacts with children, grandchildren and friends made the whole exercise practical.

The use of offline materials – including videos, white board presentations, and individual and group discussions – turned out to be an excellent mechanism to explain the benefits of an on-line experience. Finally, the simple interface developed by Connected Living gave seniors the “training wheels” to get them online and using e-mail and the Internet for practical purposes quickly and easily.

We have found that seniors act positively to: (1) the initial one-on-one human connection; (2) developing skills with clear and practical values; (3) proceeding at one’s own pace; (4) having access to offline and on-line training materials; (5) the social aspects of group classes and learning experiences, like high school; and (6) having access to a computer and an Internet connection in the individual apartments.

Evaluating the Effectiveness of the Intervention

The Sustainable Adoption BTOP applicants asks for two key evaluation metrics. The first relates to the effectiveness of “awareness raising” strategies. The second involves the calculation of the costs of generating a “new subscriber.”

Awareness-raising campaigns use conventional marketing metrics. Target audiences are identified and researched. A strategy for appealing to the target audiences is developed. Channels of communication are selected. Channel communication strategies are developed. Budgets are established. As the marketing program is implemented, the results of the expenditures are tracked on a “cost per unit of intended result” basis. More of the budget is allocated to the marketing channels that are effective. Less is allocated to those of lesser effectiveness.

There are two basic ways to measure the impact of the awareness raising efforts. The first is to measure the number and quality of the responses to each of the communication efforts used to promote awareness. That would involve tracking: (1) attendance and interest demonstrated at initial group informational meetings; (2) attendance and interest at the initial meetings with the Internet instructor; (3) the entry and dissemination of materials for the online community directory; (4) attendance Internet institutional group meetings; (5) participation in computer labs; (6) interest demonstrated in meetings with instructors such as Connected Living Ambassadors;

The second and more important measure of impact is to determine the number of seniors who: (1) obtain an e-mail address; (2) start using the internet on a regular basis; (3) take and pass competency tests; (4) obtain and use computing devices in their individual units; (5) get Internet connectivity in their individual units; and (6) subscribe and pay for an Internet service. The ultimate test of the effectiveness of the overall awareness-raising and instructional programs relates to the increase in the number of seniors actually subscribing to and using the Internet, because they have become convinced that the practical and prioritized values of the Internet are worth the effort, frustration, and cost of actually getting online.

Similar measurements of the impact of awareness raising campaigns can be developed to assess interest and activity by: (1) family and friends of the seniors; (2) senior on the building waiting lists; and (3) seniors and senior-supporting organizations in the neighborhoods.

Editor’s Note: The preceeding guest commentary appears by special invitation of Broadband Census News. Neither BroadbandCensus.com nor BroadbandBreakfast.com endorse the views in the commentary. We invite officials, experts and individuals interested in the state of broadband to offer commentaries of their own. To offer a commentary, please e-mail [email protected]. Not all commentaries may be published.

Don S. Samuelson of DSSA Stratategies has more than 30 years of experience in government-assisted housing and real estate development. Andrew Lowenstein is with MyWay Village, Inc. Samuelson has a passion for applying broadband to provide solutions in the fields of education and training. E-mail him at [email protected], or contact him by phone at 847-420-1732.

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U.S. Broadband Deployment and Speeds are Beating Europe’s, Says Scholar Touting ‘Facilities-based Competition’

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WASHINGTON, June 10, 2014 – In spite of press reports to the contrary, U.S. broadband coverage is not falling behind European levels of service, academic Christopher Yoo said on Wednesday at the National Press Club.

“It seems like every other week there’s a new infographic or news story that talks about how the U.S. is falling behind in broadband speeds, we don’t have fiber to the home, and telecom companies are rolling in the profits while consumer prices soar,” said Doug Brake, telecommunications policy analyst with The Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, setting up the topic tackled in by Yoo in his presentation.

On the contrary, said Yoo, the founding director of the Center for Technology, Innovation and Competition, the U.S. led in many broadband metrics in 2011 and 2012. And, he said, it is precisely the absence of a “one size fits all” regulatory structure that has been been driving technological innovation forward in the marketplace.

In other words, according to Yoo, the American approach to facilities-based competition – where cable companies and telephone companies compete through rival communications networks –has succeeded.

While the findings may be “surprising” to some, Yoo said they proved the importance of examining the best approach to broadband regulation based on “real world data.”

The notion that “fiber is the only answer” to affordable high-speed broadband is a misconception, he said. Countries emphasizing fiber over rival technologies – including Sweden and France – were among the worst broadband performers.

In the U.S., 82 percent of households received broadband at speeds of at least 25 Megabits per second (Mbps), versus 54 percent in Europe. In rural areas, the difference was even greater: 48 percent in the U.S., versus 12 percent in Europe. The five countries that did beat U.S. coverage of greater than 25 Mbps (including Denmark and the Netherlands) are compact, urbanized regions with greater population densities.

Additionally, even looking at fiber-based technologies, the U.S. is outperforming Europe, he said. Fiber coverage in the U.S. went from 17 percent in 2011 to 23 percent in 2012. In Europe, fiber coverage went from 10 percent in 2011 to 12 percent in 2012.

And, based on the measurement of telecommunications investment per household, the U.S. number is more than double that of Europe: $562 versus $244 in the old world.

And, he said, American users consumed 50 percent more bandwidth than Europeans in 2011 and 2012.

“The best measure of how much a network is really worth is how much you use it,” Yoo said. “It’s great to have a very fast car, but unless you use it, it’s not really doing very much for you.”

One area where the U.S. could see improvement is in the area of broadband adoption, Brake said. That demonstrates continued need to demonstrate value in broadband for consumers.

Yoo agreed: “Availability is only a part of the question. There are plenty of people who have broadband available to them who are choosing not to adopt.”

Moderator Gerry Faulhaber added: “As regulators, we can mandate coverage, we can mandate buildout. What we can’t do is mandate people to use it.”

Keeping a series of tiered rates for broadband service is exactly what America’s broadband rollout needs, said Brake. That not only encourages consumers to purchase internet at lower introductory rates, it also efficiently places the burden on those who wish to pay more for higher-speed service. This helps to recuperate costs for networks.

“Is it better to provide 75 to 100 Mbps to 80 to 90 percent of the population, or one Gigabit per second to 10 to 20 percent of the population?”

Blair Levin, former director of the FCC’s National Broadband Plan, and now communications a science fellow at the Aspen Institute, said that comparisons with Europe doesn’t change America’s objective to build deeper fiber, use broadband to improve the delivery of goods and services, and connect more users.

“Which activity is more productive – looking at oneself in the mirror and asking, ‘do these jeans make me look fat?’ or going to the gym? Focusing on actions that improve one’s condition is better than wondering about how one should appear relative to others,” said Levin.

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Discussion of Broadband Breakfast Club Virtual Event on High-Capacity Applications and Gigabit Connectivity

WASHINGTON, September 24, 2013 – The Broadband Breakfast Club released the first video of its Broadband Breakfast Club Virtual Event, on “How High-Capacity Applications Are Driving Gigabit Connectivity.”

The dialogue featured Dr. Glenn Ricart, Chief Technology Officer, US IGNITESheldon Grizzle of GigTank in Chattanooga, Tennessee; Todd MarriottExecutive Director of UTOPIA, the Utah Telecommunications Open Infrastructure Agency, and Drew ClarkChairman and Publisher, BroadbandBreakfast.com.

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WASHINGTON, September 24, 2013 – The Broadband Breakfast Club released the first video of its Broadband Breakfast Club Virtual Event, on “How High-Capacity Applications Are Driving Gigabit Connectivity.”

The dialogue featured Dr. Glenn Ricart, Chief Technology Officer, US IGNITESheldon Grizzle of GigTank in Chattanooga, Tennessee; Todd MarriottExecutive Director of UTOPIA, the Utah Telecommunications Open Infrastructure Agency, and Drew ClarkChairman and Publisher, BroadbandBreakfast.com.

To register for the next Broadband Breakfast Club Virtual Event, “How Will FirstNet Improve Public Safety Communications?,” on Tuesday, October 15, 2013, at 11 a.m. ET/10 a.m. CT, please visit http://gowoa.me/i/XV8

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Breakfast Club Video: ‘Gigabit and Ultra-High-Speed Networks: Where They Stand Now and How They Are Building the Future’

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WASHINGTON, May 24, 2013 – Emphasizing the developing nature of broadband networks in the United States, speakers at the May 21 Broadband Breakfast Club event said that the recent achievement of ultra-high speed broadband networks has been a critical factor seeding transformative developments for organizations, individuals and communities. These developments, panelists said, were simply not possible before with slower speed networks.

Yet panelists at the event, “Becoming a Gigabit Nation: What Have We Learned About Ultra-High Speed Broadband?” also agreed that speed is not actually the most important factor in the maturing of these networks.

Event Highlights

Complete Program

Successful deployment of such networks requires concerted efforts and continual upgrades involving community leadership, assessment of consumer needs and desires, infrastructure development, application development and successful assessment of usage patterns. All of these factors affect the success of such gigabit and high-speed networks, panelists said.

In other words, high-speed networks need to be developed in concert with proposed applications, which are in turn developed in the context of their communities or customer base.

As gigabit cities consultant David Sandel said, gigabit and smart city transformation being undertaken is 90 percent sociology and 10 percent infrastructure. Sandel, president of Sandel and Associates, works with St. Louis, Kansas City and other communities worldwide and runs the Gigabit City Summit, a global forum of community leaders who are engaged in discussion on new forms of leadership for managing such networks.

Sandel said that new gigabit leadership must break out of traditional silos and engage in greater information exchange and collaboration. Less hierarchy, more inclusion and more communication, facilitate the success of gigabit services and applications, he said.

What’s Happening Now

Sandel and other panelists gave examples of how 100-plus megabit per second and gigabit-level connectivity is already providing considerable benefits to cities that have it – even where the majority of a city’s consumers do not yet have needs for those levels of service.

For example, Sandel described the success of a two-mile gigabit main street in St. Louis, Missouri. This project has attracted a number of innovative businesses to the area. He said that such projects carry several benefits to an entire city, such as enabling the use of cloud services, driving up real estate values, and creating high-value jobs. In addition, the current relatively higher costs of gigabit service in communities can be partially offset by institutional and industrial uses.

Similarly, Sheldon Grizzle, founder and co-director of the Chattanooga-based GIGTANK, a technology start-up accelerator, said that the implementation of gigabit broadband by the local utility EPB has been a boon to its electrical grid. Power outages in the area have decreased by 60 percent, he said.

Grizzle says that Chattanooga, as a small city of 170,000, sees itself as a good test case for gigabit networks. Its network now provides speeds of 50 Mbps for 50,000 subscribers. It also offers or Gbps symmetrical service (i.e. 1 Gbps upload and 1 Gbps download) for $300 a month, although the number of subscribers has been fewer. He attributed the relatively low demand for the gigabit offered to the high price point.

Grizzle said that GIGTANK has been recruiting application developers from around the world to build appropriate apps for the community, as Chattanooga’s gigabit network grows beyond its infancy.

Speed Issues

Notwithstanding high-profile gigabit build-outs in recent years, nationally broadband speeds have been steadily increasing by other methods over the last several years, said Kevin McElearney, senior vice president of network engineering and technical operations for Comcast Cable.

McElearney said that, for example, Comcast has innovated on nextgen technologies every year, increasing network speeds 11 times over the last 11 years, and is now running terabit links over the backbone to allow capacity for new applications. He said that Comcast now provides up to 100 Mbps download capacity, with 70 percent of consumers electing for 25 Mbps and 30 percent for tiers higher speeds.

McElearney said that Comcast sees the increasing use of multiple devices in households as the principal driver behind the demand for higher broadband speeds for consumers.

Application Development

William Wallace, Executive Director of U.S. Ignite, a developer of gigabit-ready digital experiences and applications, spoke of an “internet of immersive experience,” suggesting an internet experience completely different from prior experiences. Users will also be creating their own experiences, he said.

Wallace further noted that customization of network features around applications will help to build in the greatest efficiencies. For example, different applications will be characterized by different speeds, security features, cloud storage locations, latencies etc.

Scott Wallsten, vice president for research and senior fellow at the Technology Policy Institute, said that focus on ultra-high broadband speeds is misplaced. According to Wallsten, because internet speeds are already increasing consistently, policies focusing on speed are unnecessary. Instead, Wallsten said, greater attention should be paid to other metrics of broadband quality, such as latency and reliability.

Additionally, Wallsten stated that the government’s adoption programs should be focused on low-income inner-city non-adopters rather than rural high-speed development. He said that the Federal Communications Commission’s high cost fund portion of the Universal Service Fund has not been sufficient to pay for rural development. Instead, the best hope to help the most individuals get broadband is to focus on urban areas. Increased efficiencies in cities will offer a better chance for providers to lower costs and then expand network development in rural areas.

Sandel concluded with how education is critical for successful gigabit network development and that there should be a three-pronged approach: education for leaders as to the impacts and benefits of gigabit networks and applications across all sectors, development of clear economic development models that draw lines to revenue flows, and policies for inclusion of all populations so that everyone can participate.

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