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>.
Broadband Breakfast on October 27, 2021 — When ‘Greenfield’ Fiber Meets ‘Brownfield’ Multiple Dwelling Units
What options do owners of, operators in, and tenants within MDUs have for better-quality broadband?
Our Broadband Breakfast Live Online events take place on Wednesday at 12 Noon ET. You can watch the October 27, 2021, event on this page. You can also PARTICIPATE in the current Broadband Breakfast Live Online event. REGISTER HERE.
Wednesday, October 27, 2021, 12 Noon ET — “When Greenfield Fiber Meets Brownfield Multiple Dwelling Units”
Bringing fiber to the premises is sometimes only half the battle. For example, bringing fiber to an MDU may not mean that every tenant will get better-quality broadband. In the case of multiple dwelling units or multi-tenant housing, it isn’t easy to completely rewire an existing building with fiber-to-the-unit. Further, the Biden Administration and the Federal Communications Commission are pushing real estate owners to eliminate or minimize exclusive MDU broadband contacts. What options do the owners of, operators in, and tenants within MDUs have to enjoy both competitive and better-quality broadband?
- Sandra Howe, Board of Directors, Minim
- Pierre Trudeau, President and Chief Technology Officer, Positron Access
- Other Guests have been invited
- Drew Clark (moderator), Editor and Publisher of Broadband Breakfast
Drew Clark, Editor and Publisher of Broadband Breakfast, also serves as Of Counsel to The CommLaw Group. He has helped fiber-based and fixed wireless providers negotiate telecom leases and fiber IRUs, litigate to operate in the public right of way, and argue regulatory classifications before federal and state authorities. He has also worked with cities on structuring Public-Private Partnerships for better broadband access for their communities. Drew brings experts and practitioners together to advance the benefits provided by broadband. He is also the President of the Rural Telecommunications Congress.
As with all Broadband Breakfast Live Online events, the FREE webcasts will take place at 12 Noon ET on Wednesday.
National Non-Profit to Launch Joint Initiative to Close Broadband Affordability and Homework Gap
EducationSuperHighway is signing up partners and will launch November 4.
WASHINGTON, October 18, 2021 – National non-profit Education Super Highway is set to launch a campaign next month that will work with internet service providers to identify students without broadband and expand programs that will help connect the unconnected.
On November 4, the No Home Left Offline initiative will launch to close the digital divide for 18 million American households that “have access to the Internet but can’t afford to connect,” according to a Monday press release.
The campaign will publish a detailed report with “crucial data insights into the broadband affordability gap and the opportunities that exist to close it,” use data to identify unconnected households and students, and launch broadband adoption and free apartment Wi-Fi programs in Washington D.C.
The non-profit and ISPs will share information confidentially to identify students without broadband at home and “enable states and school districts to purchase Internet service for families through sponsored service agreements,” the website said.
The initiative will run on five principles: identify student need, have ISPs create sponsored service offerings for school districts or other entities, set eligibility standards, minimize the amount of information necessary to sign up families, and protect privacy.
The non-profit said 82 percent of Washington D.C.’s total unconnected households – a total of just over 100,000 people – have access to the internet but can’t afford to connect.
“This ‘broadband affordability gap’ keeps 47 million Americans offline, is present in every state, and disproportionately impacts low-income, Black, and Latinx communities,” the release said. “Without high-speed Internet access at home, families in Washington DC can’t send their children to school, work remotely, or access healthcare, job training, the social safety net, or critical government services.”
Over 120 regional and national carriers have signed up for the initiative.
The initiative is another in a national effort to close the “homework gap.” The Federal Communications Commission is connected schools, libraries and students using money from the Emergency Connectivity Fund, which is subsidizing devices and connections. It has received $5 billion in requested funds in just round one.
Steve Lacoff: A New Standard for the ‘Cloudification’ of Communications Services
The cloudification of communications services makes it easy to include voice, data, SMS, and video within any existing service.
The line of demarcation between what has traditionally been considered a telecommunications service was once very clear. It was tangible – there were wires, end points, towers, switches, facilities. Essentially, there was infrastructure required to relay voice or data from point A to point B.
Today that line is fuzzy, if not invisible. The legacy infrastructure remains, but an industry of cloud-based services that don’t require the physical connections has exploded. Voice, data, SMS, and video conferencing can now be conveniently delivered OTT. Enabled by simple API integrations, businesses can embed just one of these services or a complete communications platform-as-a-service (CPaaS) into an app, service, or product.
Cloudification is a game changer
This “cloudification” of communications services makes it easy to include voice, data, SMS, and video within any existing application, product, or service. These are essential components for many business models.
Consider these services we have come to rely on in our daily lives: food or grocery delivery, ride services, and business and personal communications. These require multiple methods of communication with shoppers, drivers, co-workers, watch party groups, and external business partners.
The exciting news is there is no end in sight. Use cases will continue to evolve and growth will continue to skyrocket. The scale cloud delivery accommodates is massive. These untethered, easy to embed communications services are a critical differentiator for both business-to-business and business-to-consumer buyers, and the lifeblood of the businesses providing both the end user subscriptions and the APIs.
In fact, one industry juggernaut saw H1 YoY video application service demand grow nearly 600% in 2020.
Not surprisingly, as business demand for these services increases smaller CPaaS players continue to enter the market to quickly snag market share. According to a recent IDC study, “the global market revenue for CPaaS reached $5.9bn in 2020, up from $4.26bn in 2019, and is expected to reach $17.71bn by 2024.”
Merger and acquisition activity is aligned with this hockey stick growth forecast. Large telcos, SaaS providers, and even other CPaaS providers are all on the hunt. Whether they want to add additional features to punch up their products or eliminate the competition in a very tight, nuanced market, the end game is clear – as the market expands, the players will ultimately contract leaving only the most competitive offerings.
Don’t let communications tax take you by surprise
One of the least understood risks when adding cloud-based voice, data, SMS, or video conferencing to an existing product or service is new eligibility for and exposure to the complex world of communications taxation. Making mistakes can get costly very quickly.
Here are some of the key pitfalls to keep an eye on:
- Expanded nexus: Understanding communications tax nexus is different – and exceptionally more complicated – than sales tax. There are approximately 60,000 federal, state, local, and special taxing jurisdictions, each with uniquely complex rules that tend to change at their own pace. Rules are very different for each service.
- More complex calculations: The more communications services you provide via API, the more complicated communications taxes will be. Each feature can be taxed at different rates in each individual jurisdiction, or the whole bundle can be taxed at one rate. It’s critical to monitor monthly to avoid audit issues.
- Maintaining overall compliance: Just as tax rates and rules need to be maintained, so must tax and regulatory filing forms in each jurisdiction. Some of these are very long and require significant detail. They must be filed in a timely, accurate cadence to avoid additional audit risk.
Bottom line: Don’t assume, be prepared! As these communications services become more pervasive a larger swath of technology providers will find themselves liable for communications tax. The more your business falls behind, the more it can cost you.
It pays to be proactive and prepared. Tax and legal advisory experts can help determine your level of risk, and tax and compliance software providers can help you keep up with changing rules and regulations. Don’t underestimate the ongoing value of networking with peers who are either struggling to answer the same questions or have already overcome the hurdles you’re facing today.
Steve Lacoff is General Manager of Avalara for Communications. With a focus on data, VoIP, and video streaming, Steve has spent 15 years in various product and marketing leadership roles in communications and technology industries, including Disney’s streaming services and Comcast technology solutions. Steve now drives business strategy on today’s changing industry landscape and associated tax impacts. This piece is exclusive to Broadband Breakfast.
Broadband Breakfast accepts commentary from informed observers of the broadband scene. Please send pieces to email@example.com. The views expressed in Expert Opinion pieces do not necessarily reflect the views of Broadband Breakfast and Breakfast Media LLC.
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