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Startup Festival and Startup Culture Taking Root in Modern Provo, Home to BYU and Google Fiber

Editor’s Note: This past week, Drew Clark’s column in the Deseret News of Salt Lake City, Utah, was on the “The zeitgeist of modern Provo: Jobs and a good quality of life.” Click here for links to all of his Deseret News columns.

PROVO — What do you get when you cross a thriving technology and startup community with what Gallup called “the best place to live in America“?

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That’s the zeitgeist here in Utah County. It’ll be celebrated with a new technology, business and cultural event here, dubbed Startfest, beginning on Monday, Aug. 31.

And because of the still-coalescing cultural power of information and communications technologies, Utah as a whole is sending a message to the world: Citizens of a particular city or region are no longer necessarily forced to choose between quality of life and economic opportunity.

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Editor’s Note: This past week, Drew Clark’s column in the Deseret News of Salt Lake City, Utah, was on the “The zeitgeist of modern Provo: Jobs and a good quality of life.” Click here for links to all of his Deseret News columns.

PROVO — What do you get when you cross a thriving technology and startup community with what Gallup called “the best place to live in America“?

That’s the zeitgeist here in Utah County. It’ll be celebrated with a new technology, business and cultural event here, dubbed Startfest, beginning on Monday, Aug. 31.

And because of the still-coalescing cultural power of information and communications technologies, Utah as a whole is sending a message to the world: Citizens of a particular city or region are no longer necessarily forced to choose between quality of life and economic opportunity.

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Utahns, whether natives or migrants, have always taken pride in their state. That’s always been exceptionally true at the heart of Utah Valley, occasionally referred to as “Happy Valley.”

Yet in decades past, the happiness tended not to apply to career opportunities.

“When I attended Brigham Young University in 1985, we knew we’d have to leave the state to get a good job,” said Provo Mayor John Curtis. “That was our world and our paradigm.”

Today things are completely different, said Curtis. Those attending BYU enjoy a rather different economic and cultural vitality.

Curtis was speaking last November at BYU’s Marriott School of Management at another event of Beehive Startups, a less-than-2-year-old humming company. Now it’s putting on Startfest with Google Fiber, Peak Ventures, the organization Silicon Slopes and others. The festival promises more than 196 events across 13 venues in downtown Provo.

Among the speakers will be both Gov. Gary Herbert and his technology industry challenger, Overstock.com Chairman Jonathan Johnson. Others on the agenda include the CEOs of booming Utah tech companies Qualtrics, Domo, Pluralsight, MX, Maritz CX and many more, including Curtis.

Several of the tracks are devoted to enhancing the role of women in technology, business and the communications industry: Gail Miller of the Larry H. Miller Group on “I never wanted to be a businesswoman,” plus a Degreed executive on “reaching 50-50 gender balance in tech and entrepreneurship in Utah.”

The six-day event has also been timed to coincide with Provo’s “Rooftop Concert Series,” showcasing local bands, and the smartphone-focused Pocket Film Fest. It will conclude with an all-night “hackathon” devoted to helping develop applications for gigabit fiber connectivity.

The broader event is certain to include signature Utah cultural moments, too. Among the speakers will be local heroes like Tim Ballard, the founder of Operation Underground Railroad, Studio C stars Matt Meese and Mallory Everton, plus the marketing manager for the Mormon Channel and the up-and-coming DJ Kaskade.

It will also launch the “Beehive Awards,” which will recognize community heroes who overcome great obstacles to put others before themselves.

Stepping back, consider the attributes that are driving Provo, and Utah, so high in so many rankings of livability.

Gallup used six factors: Life evaluation, emotional health, work environment, physical health, healthy behaviors, and access to basic necessities.

These criteria aren’t all that different from what cities everywhere are looking for. In addition to jobs, educational institutions and health care are cultural and natural resources, plus good-quality infrastructure that make an area suitable for both established businesses and entrepreneurs.

It’s as if distance and region are irrelevant. A generation ago, Provo was a city of a completely different character from New York City or San Francisco. Today, each of these and others are competing to be a magnet for young talent.

For Clint Betts, the organizer of the event, this new Startfest does something different and bigger than the StartSLC conference he hosted at the Gateway Center in Salt Lake City just seven months ago.

“While the goal will always be to highlight and showcase Utah’s startup and tech ecosystem, StartSLC was more like a regional event,” he says. “StartFest is a national event that happens to be in Utah.” And he’s expecting entrepreneurs and venture capitalists from Silicon Valley, Boston, New York and Washington, D.C.

“As much as there is this amazing tech and startup community in Utah, historically even now it keeps to itself,” Betts said. “Our goal is to bridge that divide” between techies and the rest of the state.

Mayor Curtis is a firm believer of that power of technology. “Had I enjoyed the resources you had, I wonder how my life would be different. If I had gigabit speeds, or even the Internet,” he said, his thoughts trailing off at last November’s event.

Then, turning to the youngish crowd at BYU last year, he said, “I am so jealous of you: This is such an unbelievable time!”

Drew Clark is the Editor and Publisher of BroadbandBreakfast.com and a nationally-respected telecommunications attorney at The CommLaw Group. He has closely tracked the trends in and mechanics of digital infrastructure for 20 years, and has helped fiber-based and fixed wireless providers navigate coverage, identify markets, broker infrastructure, and operate in the public right of way. The articles and posts on Broadband Breakfast and affiliated social media, including the BroadbandCensus Twitter feed, are not legal advice or legal services, do not constitute the creation of an attorney-client privilege, and represent the views of their respective authors.

Digital Inclusion

Lack of Public Broadband Pricing Information a Cause of Digital Divide, Say Advocates

Panelists argued that lack of equitable digital access is deadly and driven by lack of competition.

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September 24, 2021- Affordability, language and lack of competition are among the factors that continue to perpetuate the digital divide and related inequities, according to panelists at a Thursday event on race and broadband.

One of the panelists faulted the lack of public broadband pricing information as a root cause.

In poorer communities there’s “fewer ISPs. There’s less competition. There’s less investment in fiber,” said Herman Galperin, associate professor at the University of Southern California. “It is about income. It is about race, but what really matters is the combination of poverty and communities of color. That’s where we find the largest deficits of broadband infrastructure.”

While acknowledging that “there is an ongoing effort at the [Federal Communications Commission] to significantly improve the type of data and the granularity of the data that the ISPs will be required to report,” Galperin said that the lack of a push to make ISP pricing public will doom that effort to fail.

He also questioned why ISPs do not or are not required to report their maps of service coverage revealing areas of no or low service. “Affordability is perhaps the biggest factor in preventing low-income folks from connecting,” Galperin said.

“It’s plain bang for their buck,” said Traci Morris, executive director of the American Indian Policy Institute at Arizona State University, referring to broadband providers reluctance to serve rural and remote areas. “It costs more money to go to [tribal lands].”

Furthermore, the COVID-19 pandemic has only made that digital divide clearer and more deadly. “There was no access to information for telehealth,” said Morris. “No access to information on how the virus spread.”

Galperin also raised the impact of digital gaps in access upon homeless and low-income populations. As people come in and out of homelessness, they have trouble connecting to the internet at crucial times, because – for example – a library might be closed.

Low-income populations also have “systemic” digital access issues struggling at times with paying their bills having to shut their internet off for months at a time.

Another issue facing the digital divide is linguistic. Rebecca Kauma, economic and digital inclusion program manager for the city of Long Beach, California, said that residents often speak a language other than English. But ISPs may not offer interpretation services for them to be able to communicate in their language.

Funding, though not a quick fix-all, often brings about positive change in the right hands. Long Beach received more than $1 million from the U.S. CARES Act, passed in the wake of the early pandemic last year. “One of the programs that we designed was to administer free hotspots and computing devices to those that qualify,” she said.

Some “band-aid solutions” to “systemic problems” exist but aren’t receiving the attention or initiative they deserve, said Galperin. “What advocacy organizations are doing but we need a lot more effort is helping people sign up for existing low-cost offers.” The problem, he says, is that “ISPs are not particularly eager to promote” low-cost offers.

The event “Race and Digital Inequity: The Impact on Poor Communities of Color,” was hosted by the Michelson 20MM Foundation and its partners the California Community Foundation, Silicon Valley Community Foundation and Southern California Grantmakers.

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Broadband's Impact

USC, CETF Collaborate on Research for Broadband Affordability

Advisory panel includes leaders in broadband and a chief economist at the FCC.

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Hernan Galperin of USC's Annenberg School

WASHINGTON, September 22, 2021 – Researchers from the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School and the California Emerging Technology Fund is partnering to recommend strategies for bringing affordable broadband to all Americans.

In a press release on Tuesday, the university’s school of communications and journalism and the CETF will be guided by an expert advisory panel, “whose members include highly respected leaders in government, academia, foundations and non-profit and consumer-focused organizations.”

Members of the advisory panel include a chief economist at the Federal Communications Commission, digital inclusion experts, broadband advisors to governors, professors and deans, and other public interest organizations.

“With the federal government and states committing billions to broadband in the near term, there is a unique window of opportunity to connect millions of low-income Americans to the infrastructure they need to thrive in the 21st century,” Hernan Galperin, a professor at the school, said in the release.

“However, we need to make sure public funds are used effectively, and that subsidies are distributed in an equitable and sustainable manner,” he added. “This research program will contribute to achieve these goals by providing evidence-based recommendations about the most cost-effective ways to make these historic investments in broadband work for all.”

The CETF and USC have collaborated before on surveys about broadband adoption. In a series of said surveys recently, the organizations found disparities along income levels, as lower-income families reported lower levels of technology adoption, despite improvement over the course of the pandemic.

The surveys also showed that access to connected devices was growing, but racial minorities are still disproportionately impacted by the digital divide.

The collaboration comes before the House is expected to vote on a massive infrastructure package that includes $65 billion for broadband. Observers and experts have noted the package’s vision for flexibility, but some are concerned about the details of how that money will be spent going forward.

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Broadband's Impact

Technology Policy Institute Introduces Data Index to Help Identify Connectivity-Deprived Areas

The Broadband Connectivity Index uses multiple datasets to try to get a better understanding of well- and under-connected areas in the U.S.

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Scott Wallsten is president and senior fellow at the Technology Policy Institute

WASHINGTON, September 16, 2021 – The Technology Policy Institute introduced Thursday a broadband data index that it said could help policymakers study areas across the country with inadequate connectivity.

The TPI said the Broadband Connectivity Index uses multiple broadband datasets to compare overall connectivity “objectively and consistently across any geographic areas.” It said it will be adding it soon into its TPI Broadband Map.

The BCI uses a “machine learning principal components analysis” to take into account the share of households that can access fixed speeds the federal standard of 25 Megabits per second download and 3 Mbps upload and 100/25 – which is calculated based on the Federal Communications Commission’s Form 477 data with the American Community Survey – while also using download speed data from Ookla, Microsoft data for share of households with 25/3, and the share of households with a broadband subscription, which comes from the American Community Survey.

The BCI has a range of zero to 10, where zero is the worst connected and 10 is the best. It found that Falls Church, Virginia was the county with the highest score with the following characteristic: 99 percent of households have access to at least 100/25, 100 percent of households connect to Microsoft services at 25/3, the average fixed download speed is 243 Mbps in Ookla in the second quarter of this year, and 94 percent of households have a fixed internet connection.

Meanwhile, the worst-connected county is Echols County in Georgia. None of the population has access to a fixed connection of 25/3, which doesn’t include satellite connectivity, three percent connect to Microsoft’s servers at 25/3, the average download speed is 7 Mbps, and only 47 percent of households have an internet connection. It notes that service providers won $3.6 million out of the $9.2-billion Rural Digital Opportunity Fund to provide service in this county.

“Policymakers could use this index to identify areas that require a closer look. Perhaps any county below, say, the fifth percentile, for example, would be places to spend effort trying to understand,” the TPI said.

“We don’t claim that this index is the perfect indicator of connectivity, or even the best one we can create,” TPI added. “In some cases, it might magnify errors, particularly if multiple datasets include errors in the same area.

“We’re still fine-tuning it to reduce error to the extent possible and ensure the index truly captures useful information. Still, this preliminary exercise shows that it is possible to obtain new information on connectivity with existing datasets rather than relying only on future, extremely expensive data.”

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