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Internet Researcher John Horrigan on How Digital Illiteracy is Eclipsing Digital Divide

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WASHINGTON, July 29, 2014 – The internet equity facing the nation isn’t the digital divide, but is digital readiness, according to a panel last month by internet researcher John Horrigon at an event of the Information Technology & Innovation Foundation.

According to Horrigan, digital literacy is rapidly overshadowing non-adoption.A half-decade ago in 2009, 83 million adults didn’t have broadband in 2009, he said. Today, 43 million now lack access.

The real problem is instead the 29 percent of Americans classified as having “low levels of digital readiness.” A total of 42 percent of people have a moderate understanding of the digital world and the rest have a high level of readiness. Those with lower levels of readiness tend to be older people, or lower income earners with little educational attainment, said Scott Wallsten, vice president for research and senior fellow of the Technology Policy Institute.

In addition to having a skills problem, there is also a trust problem, Horrigan said. “Being digitally ready is about having the skills to use online applications, but also trust in new ways of carrying out tasks that require people to share a lot of information about themselves and about their households.”

To assess people’s digital readiness, Horrigan surveyed people about their knowledge of basic technological terms. These included terms like: cookies, spyware and malware, apps, refresh, reload, and QR code. This is a reliable method, Horrigan said, because previous studies have shown that people’s knowledge of these terms track closely with their ability to perform online tasks.

Does that mean people are digitally illiterate if they don’t know what a QR code is? Wallsten said no, not necessarily. Digital readiness doesn’t mean the same thing to everyone.

“Not many people know what a QR code is,” Wallsten said. “Just because you don’t know these things doesn’t necessarily mean you’re not digitally ready. It means there’s a higher probability of you not being digitally ready.”

Subjects were asked to describe their comfort level with computers, or their confidence in finding content online.

Among those with advanced online access (households with several devices including smartphones hooked up to broadband), Horrigan said 18 percent have low levels of readiness, 46 percent have moderately good readiness, and 36 percent have very high levels of readiness.

Additionally, Horrigan’s surveys found that 10 percent of people with low digital readiness said they had used the internet to search for a job whereas 52 percent of people with high digital readiness said they had done so.

“I do not know anybody that has not used the internet for their job search and the idea that there’s this group of people who are not using the internet for their job search is something I cannot even comprehend,” said Larra Clark, associate director of the Program on America’s Libraries for the 21st Century at American Library Association.

In many cases, people might have access to technology, but the degree to which they’re underutilizing it is staggering, said Nicol Turner-Lee, vice president and chief research and policy officer at Minority Media and Telecommunications Council. For lack of a better phrase, she suggested that the problem may just fix itself because “at some point, everyone’s going to die off and it’ll be the young people who will [use technology] as part of habit.”

She wasn’t as eager, however, to dismiss adoption as a diminished problem. The 43 million people who are without internet is still a lot of people, she said.

“It’s sort of like when you were learning how to drive. You took your driving lessons and overtime you got better… The challenge is, if you don’t have a car, you can’t participate,” Lee said.

After all, the internet is the modern haven for free expression and democratic participation, said Laura Breeden, team leader of the Broadband Technical Opportunities Program at the U.S. Department of Commerce’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration.

With technological change occurring so rapidly, digital literacy today might not mean literacy tomorrow, Lee said. The panel agreed that both the public and private sectors are going to have to double down on investments into educating people on literacy.

Horrigan said some policy steps to promote digital readiness include leveraging existing programs that focus on digital divide, like Comcast internet Essentials and BTOP. Community tech giants need to be bolstered and the philanthropic community has to be engaged as well.

Additionally, as the speed of technological change widens the gap between the digital divide and digital readiness, libraries could function as a remedy, especially in rural areas, acquainting people with devices and the web.

“As new applications emerge, fueled by the internet of things, big data and more, we’re going to have to continue to examine digital readiness in specific contexts such as education, workforce development, and health care applications,” Horrigan said. “We’re going to have to think of ways to make sure everyone has the skills and trust in our applications to take full advantage of them.”

Broadband Data

Ookla Has Verizon as Fastest Q1 Fixed Provider, T-Mobile Takes Top Spot for Mobile

T-Mobile was also named the most consistent mobile operator and topped 5G download speeds.

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Image of Speedtest from May 2017 by Daniel Aleksandersen used with permission

WASHINGTON, April 18, 2022 – A market report released Friday by performance metrics web service Ookla named Verizon the fastest fixed broadband provider in the U.S. during the first quarter of 2022, and T-Mobile as the fastest mobile operator during the same period.

Verizon had a median download speed of 184.36 Mbps, edging out Comcast Xfinity’s speed of 179.12 Mbps. T-Mobile’s median mobile speed was 117.83 Mbps.

Verizon had the lowest latency of all providers, according to Ookla, well ahead of Xfinity’s fourth place ranking, yet sat at third for consistency behind both Xfinity and Spectrum.

T-Mobile was also the most consistent mobile operator during the first quarter, achieving an Ookla consistency score of 88.3 percent, which along with median download speed represented an increase from the fourth quarter of 2021.

The company also achieved the fastest median 5G download speed, coming in at 191.12 Mbps.

Verizon also notably increased its 5G download speed from its Q4 metric, attributed in part to the turning on of new C-band spectrum in January following deployment delays and protest from airlines. For mobile speeds, it stood in second behind T-Mobile, bumping AT&T to a standing of third. These rankings were the same for mobile measures of latency and consistency.

Yet on 5G availability, AT&T remains ahead of Verizon.

The Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra came in as the fastest popular device in the country, running at 116.33 Mbps.

Ookla is a sponsor of Broadband Breakfast.

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Broadband Data

FCC’s Rosenworcel: Broadband Nutrition Labels Will Create New Generation of Informed Buyers

The FCC hopes companies will make it easier for consumers to choose a broadband plan that fits their needs.

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Photo of Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel speaking at the Mobile World Conference 2022 in Barcelona

WASHINGTON, March 11, 2022 – The Federal Communications Commission’s broadband nutrition labels will usher in a new era where buyers have simple information about what they’re buying, agency Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel said Friday.

Consumers should know what they’re signing up for when they spend hundreds “or even thousands” of dollars per year for internet service. She was speaking at Friday’s commission hearing on its so-called broadband nutrition label initiative.

The hearing comes on top of a public comment period on the initiative. Many providers are pushing for more flexible regulations on compliance.

When consumers choose a broadband provider for their household, Rosenworcel said may people make decisions with “sometimes incomplete and inaccurate information.”

“The problem for broadband consumers isn’t a total lack of information, but there’s loads of fine print,” Rosenworcel said. “It can be difficult to know exactly what we are paying for and these disclosures are not consistent from carrier to carrier,” which makes comparing prices and services harder and more time-consuming for consumers.

The comments built on other recent speeches by Rosenworcel promoting the initiative, encouraging state attorneys general’s ability to enforce companies’ commitments through their states’ consumer protection statutes.

The FCC began a plan in 2015 for broadband labels that was voluntary. The new initiative directed by last year’s bipartisan infrastructure law makes this effort mandatory for broadband providers.

Matt Sayre, managing director of cross sector economic development firm Onward Eugene, said residents in rural Oregon would benefit from simple information when considering broadband providers. During a time where dial-up and satellite-based offerings were primarily available, Sayre said his neighbors “never used terms like latency or packet loss.”

“These are important aspects of good internet service, but not easily understood by most people,” Sayre said. “Citizens understood they needed better service but were uncertain about what tier of service they needed. This is where broadband labels can be very helpful.”

The hearing was the agency’s first on the initiative.

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Small ISP Organizations Push FCC for Flexibility on Broadband Label Compliance

Advocates say strict compliance requirements may economically harm small providers.

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Photo of outgoing WISPA CEO of Claude Aiken from April 2018 by New America used with permission

WASHINGTON, March 11, 2022 ­­– In comments submitted to the Federal Communications Commission Wednesday, organizations representing small internet providers are pushing for flexible regulations on compliance with a measure that requires clear reporting of broadband service aspects to consumers.

The measure was adopted at a late January meeting by the commission, mandating that providers list their pricing and speed information about services in the format of a “broadband nutrition label” that mimics a food nutrition label. Congress’ bipartisan infrastructure bill enacted in the fall required that the FCC adopt such policy.

The organizations that submitted comments Wednesday say that strict compliance requirements for the new measure may economically harm small providers.

Among those leading the charge are trade associations Wireless Internet Service Providers Association, NTCA – The Rural Broadband Association and America’s Communications Association as well as provider Lumen Technologies.

In comments, limited resources of smaller providers were cited as factors which could disadvantage them in terms of complying with the measure to the FCC’s standards and several organizations asked for small providers to be given extra time to comply.

In separate comments, internet provider Lumen said that the FCC must make multiple changes to its approach if it is to “avoid imposing new obligations that arbitrarily impose excessive costs on providers and undermine other policy goals.”

Last month, FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel said that she looks forward to increased coordination between the FCC and state attorneys general for the enforcement of the measure.

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