At MIO, we’re well aware that broadband isn’t being used to its full potential because not enough of the right people know what it is or what it can do for them. And since they don’t know what they’re missing, they’re not asking policymakers or the companies that provide broadband to make it more accessible. This is, in essence, the underlying problem that will perpetuate the digital divide.
Our nation’s goal is to decrease that divide: to help key decision-makers understand what broadband is and why they need it; encourage companies and policymakers to make it widely available; and help communities make the most of the opportunities it offers for economic development, increased quality and reach of services, and jobs.
So when we (MIO) were ready to talk about our mission and reach out to the people who need to understand the value of broadband, we decided to jump right into the lifeblood of online communications: social media.
We wanted to focus on Twitter, Facebook and blogs. To better understand how to make the most of these resources, we worked with Nology Media, a content publishing, measurement and marketing agency that uses social media to connect brands with audiences. In other words, social media gurus. The folks at Nology outlined the steps we needed to take. First on the list was much like starting a discussion in person: identify the influential people who are talking about broadband, and then join their conversations.
We spent a combined 25 hours searching Facebook, Twitter and various blogging sites for people in the United States talking about broadband. What we found is, in itself, an important illustration of the digital divide.
We were surprised to learn that not many individuals who are knowledgeable and influential about broadband are actually talking about it through one of the hottest communication mediums available: social media. We identified only six key people, or “influentials,” who are consistently engaged in broadband dialogue: Andrew McLaughlin, with 6,058 followers; Susan Reynolds, with 5,089 followers; Cecilia Kang, with 4,905 followers; Bill Schrier, with 3,228 followers; Rachelle Chong, with 1,478 followers; and Craig Settles, with 939 followers.
While it’s true we searched for only 25 hours, it’s important to point out that the Internet is supposed to make it easy to find information, yet this wasn’t our experience with social media. There may be other broadband gurus having conversations out there, but if it takes more than 25 hours to find them, then doesn’t that defeat the purpose of having the conversations online?
What are they talking about?
Ironically, the people who have the most to gain from broadband aren’t even talking about it—nor are they the people being talked to through social media. In fact, based upon a review of conversations occurring among the influentials’ followers, we found that the top six influentials are more often talking with one another. Furthermore, those conversations are dominated by the following topics: policy, announcements (mergers, new devices or apps) and technological issues.
Even entities like Benton Foundation, Pew Research Center, Speedmatters.org, Public Knowledge—all of which release really good information about broadband challenges and usage—aren’t often talking to the real target audience: the current generation, which hasn’t yet adopted broadband but should to join the digital age. Instead, conversations are primarily among those who are already broadband-savvy. Policymakers and industry experts are talking to one another, and too often we couldn’t find information that explains to the target audience in plain English and in a way that matters to them what broadband is, what it can do for them and who can help them get online.
We also discovered that, while existing conversations are happening online, they’re still not reaching broadband’s true target audiences.
Needed: the right message to the right people and in the right place
When our founder traveled around the state last year in her prior role as Washington’s Broadband Policy and Program Director, she talked to potential end-users about what broadband can do for them. During those conversations she was repeatedly asked, “Why aren’t we hearing more about why broadband is important in the news, on TV or in radio?”
Our observation is that the people who are out there advocating for increased broadband usage should be talking about it where it will be really heard and in a manner that truly communicates broadband’s importance.
Consider where people get their news and information today:
- 32% of social media users are ages 23-35
- 26% of social media users are ages 36-49
- 68% of online news users are under the age 50
- 39% of ages 30-49 are online news users
- Average Facebook user is 38
- Average Twitter user is 33
Clearly, the majority of decision makers still rely primarily on traditional media for their news and information. Ironically, they are the very people with the clout to push for wider broadband use if they could only realize what it can do for them in their work and community. But they’re not hearing about broadband in traditional media.
As for the older demographic that is participating in social media, if they even monitor broadband they’re mostly hearing talk about policy, technology changes and announcements. That’s because the policymakers and industry experts are largely talking to one another. They’re not using social media to talk about broadband to others, and they don’t seem to be using traditional media to talk about broadband at all. So are we all really talking about broadband effectively?
What needs to change?
The broadband industry (both public and private sectors) needs to start talking about the value of broadband in a way that resonates with each audience (specific to education, health care, small business, public safety, agriculture, etc.). Plus, the conversation needs to occur, at least for now, in both social and traditional media in order to connect everyone to the issue, irrespective of age, and to one another.
How do we do this?
- We can’t wait for the magical moment when the target audience suddenly sees the light and starts using broadband. Due to the digital divide and the reasons for it, those people don’t know what they’re missing. Instead, influential broadband advocates need to change what they say about broadband, and how and where they discuss it.
- The people who have the most to gain from broadband need to understand in terms that make sense to them what it is, what it can do for them, how they can get access to it, and how they can put it to use. They need real-life examples that resonate with their lives and needs and that are backed by facts and figures to justify the effort to bring broadband into what they do.
- This more robust and meaningful conversation needs to reach the influentials in education, health, agriculture, transportation, small businesses and others.
At MIO, we want to decrease the digital divide. So we’re going to start talking. Naturally we’re going to talk to the people who want to maximize the opportunities provided by broadband. But we’re also going to talk to the people who aren’t using broadband but should be, because they’re the ones who stand to benefit the most. We encourage our peers who are influential in broadband—as well as those who aren’t talking about their laudable accomplishments—to start using both social and traditional media to talk about broadband beyond our inner circle. By reaching all age groups we can collectively generate a ripple effect of transformation and change into the digital age.
Angela Wu, Founder of MIO, a nonprofit corporation, shares facts and figures to inform, educate and connect the benefits of broadband-based applications and services to what people do.
 Hampton, Kieth N., Lauren S. Soulet, Lee Rainie, and Kristen Purcell. “Social Networking Sites and Our Lives | Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project.” Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project. Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project, 16 June 2011. Web. 11 July 2011. <http://www.pewinternet.org/Reports/2011/Technology-and-social-networks.aspx>.
 Purcell, Kristen, Lee Rainie, Amy Mitchell, Tom Rosenstiel, and Kenny Olmstead. “Understanding the Participatory News Consumer | Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project.” Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project. Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project, 1 Mar. 2010. Web. 11 July 2011. <http://www.pewinternet.org/Reports/2010/Online-News.aspx?r=1>.
Multilingual Digital Navigators Crucial For Inclusion
Digital liaisons who speak multiple languages can help guide multilingual communities for the digital future.
April 19, 2021 – Encouraging multilingualism among digital navigators will help facilitate better inclusion in digital adoption, experts said last week.
Speaking Spanish is a huge plus for digital navigators in Salt Lake City, Utah, for example, as many of its focused neighborhoods needing to be connected to broadband speak the language, said Shauna McNiven Edson, digital inclusion coordinator at Salt Lake City Public Library.
Edson and other panelists spoke last Wednesday at the 2021 Net Inclusion Webinar Series hosted by the National Digital Inclusion Alliance, a digital inclusion advocacy group on what skills are needed to become a digital navigator.
At the Salt Lake City Public Library, progress is there but challenges persist for digital inclusion and navigation. Edson said there were about 450 participants in its library program’s group for digital inclusion. However, only about 5 percent of participants, or 22 people, have adequate broadband at home. Seventy-five percent of members said they needed help finding a computer or internet-enabled deice, and 10 percent of its 450 members have contacted the library’s support staff for It issues.
Digital navigators are crucial because they connect community members with the skills and resources they need to become digitally literate and help them get adequate broadband. Navigators can be volunteers or cross-trained staff who already work in social service agencies, libraries, health, and more who offer remote and socially distant in-person guidance.
Compared to the rest of the country, Salt Lake City is highly connected, said Edson. Every community has a unique demographic make-up, and if the communities who need access to broadband mostly speak Spanish or English or even Mandarin, there should be community anchors with highly trained digital navigators to help the underconnected.
Andrew Au, director of operations at Digital Charlotte, said digital inclusion should include adult education. Every library and public institution that offers internet services should have digital navigators available and onsite to guide individuals in their communities and offer continuing education resources to keep digital skills literacy up, he said.
Mentorship Instrumental To Women Involvement in Telecom Industry
Experts advise mentorship and encouragement to get more women in the industry.
April 19, 2021 – A group of women were asked to rate gender equality in their workplace on a scale of 1-10. Their average score? About a four. The solution? More mentorship early in their lives.
The women, experts in network companies, spoke at the event, “Women in Broadband: Achieving zero barriers,” hosted by fiber network company Render Networks last Wednesday.
Kari Kump, director of network services at Mammoth Networks, said that in the broadband industry, she rates it a four, and in government jobs, a bit higher at five. Kump said she sees lots of women in marketing positions and non-technical managerial positions that “may oversee tech.” She said the worst gender equality in her view is at the construction site, where women “pay the bills” in the office rather than being out on site.
What’s causing gender inequality? The problem starts long before the job interview. Mitsuko Herrera, from planning and special projects for Montgomery County, said in her current work, only 2 out of 25 colleagues are women.
“The opportunity may be there, but we don’t see a lot of qualified women in the industry,” she said. Even before they reach college, women and girls need to have opportunities for engagement across various industries. Having mentors at an early age would greatly increase women participation and influence at work. In the workspace, praising women privately is just as important as praising them publicly, said Herrera. Women need to know they are supported at all times with all people.
Having better representation at the table is crucial because diverse perspectives affect industry and society for the better, said Laura Smith, vice president of people and culture at Biarri Networks. “The groups making decisions should reflect society,” she said.
And even if there is diversity, it’s not enough to have women at work for diversity’s sake—you also need to listen to that diversity and not ignore it.
Partnerships And Trust Go Long Way To Securing Financing For Broadband Projects, Panelists Say
Broadband Breakfast panelists wrestle with the challenge of financing broadband infrastructure projects.
April 16, 2021 – Financing broadband projects requires real human relationships among everyone involved, said Broadband Breakfast experts Wednesday.
The weekly panel addressed the challenge of financing broadband infrastructure. Billions of federal dollars are making their way to expand internet access across the country, including the $9.3 billion Rural Digital Opportunity Fund, the $3.2 billion Emergency Broadband Benefit program and the $7 billion Emergency Connectivity Fund. There is significant funding to be spent, but it’s not always as simple as receiving a check in the mail from the government.
Getting the necessary funds to build broadband networks — whether they are private service providers like Comcast, electric co-ops or municipal-owned networks — often requires financing with banking institutions or other means of funding.
“You really want to strike a deal with someone that you can trust, who you think has your community’s interests in mind,” said Christopher Mitchell, director of the Institute for Local Self Reliance’s Community Broadband Network Initiative. “Human relationships are important, and often are a precursor to striking any of these sorts of deals.”
He mentioned unique ways that companies and communities can collaborate to build broadband networks.
For example, he referenced some long-term agreements in Minnesota between localities and CTC – Consolidated Telephone Company. The localities would pay for and own fiber-to-the-home networks that are operated by the CTC. “That can really help for operators that have the capacity to do more work, but may be at their lending or borrowing limits,” Mitchell said.
Internet Service Providers “can work with a community that would take on the debt in order to build the network and then offer, whether that’s exclusive, whether that’s permanently exclusive, or timed-exclusive, that’s one way,” Mitchell said.
Partnering with anchor institutions
Another method is for providers to partner with communities or schools to build networks that are owned by the company but paid for by the community or school with state or federal funding, such as the company Clearnetworx in Colorado.
“ISPs sometimes have to build those relationships and have creative ideas to make these things happen,” Mitchell said.
“When I think about the creation of MBC back in 2004, I think it was really all about leadership and relationship and good timing,” echoed Lauren Mathena, director of economic development and community engagement at Mid-Atlantic Broadband (MBC). On grant processes and getting the necessary financing, she said “the biggest thing is building those relationships and keeping that determination, and if you haven’t started, start today, because it is a process.”
Many smaller banks often lend out for broadband projects, sometimes even banding together if they hit their limits, because they see it as a wholistic community development, explained Tim Herwig, district community affairs officer at the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency.
“A lot of these banks are locally-owned, the bank president, the members of the board, sit in the pew at church next to customers,” Herwig said. “Their kids go to the same schools together, they eat in the same restaurants, they go jogging down the same streets, right? They have a deep sense of corporate community responsibility. They see broadband as a gateway to the financial security and future of the communities where they serve,” he said.
High cost challenges
“The big challenge in a lot of these markets for rural operators is the economics of providing service in high-cost areas just don’t pencil out,” said Jeff Johnston, lead communications economist at CoBank, a private bank that focuses on services in agriculture and infrastructure for rural areas.
In addition to getting the upfront funding to building the infrastructure, there is also the operating costs to consider, and for some areas that’s not feasible without extra support, he said. “It’s one thing to get support up front to build a network in a high-cost area, but there’s on going expenses to managing the network,” he said.
Johnston also mentioned financial issues that may occur in federal reverse auction programs such as RDOF. “They’re great programs, first of all, but I also think operators going into these reverse auctions don’t overextend themselves,” he said. “Be realistic in what you think you can do operationally and financially.”
For MBC, which operates in Virginia, they pair funding with state and federal programs, such as the 1998 national tobacco settlement through the Virginia Tobacco Region Revitalization Commission, Mathena said. “We’ve been able to pair state and federal grant applications together, so that we’re using state dollars to help build that match, so that’s not just coming from MBC’s revenue,” she said.
- Multilingual Digital Navigators Crucial For Inclusion
- Mentorship Instrumental To Women Involvement in Telecom Industry
- Gary Bolton: Satellite’s Polite Conceit of Unserved/Underserved
- NY’s $15 Internet Bill, Benton On Measures For Broadband Availability, T-Mobile Tops Availability In 45 Cities
- Huawei’s Success In China A Win For Washington, Expert Says
- Partnerships And Trust Go Long Way To Securing Financing For Broadband Projects, Panelists Say
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