Sunday, January 17, 2016

Where's FCC's 2014 tract data on home broadband?

Posted today on the National Digital Inclusion Alliance blog: Where's the FCC's 2014 neighborhood broadband data?

The availability of FCC Form 477 Census-tract level data on the ratio of home broadband connections to households -- i.e. the extent of home broadband penetration by tract -- makes analyses like this and this possible.  Also this (see page 7 of the comments and Table 4 at the end). Digital equity advocates have absolutely no other source for this kind of information.

So the FCC's failure to publish the data from 2014 on a timely basis is a big deal.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Worst-connected U.S. cities in 2014

American Community Survey data for 2014 came out last Thursday, and we now have our second edition of the nation's "worst-connected cities", released this year by the National Digital Inclusion Alliance.

Out of 184 U.S. cities with more than 50,000 households, NDIA's release lists the 25 worst-connected in terms of

Here's a handy map...

This is only the second time the Census has published household Internet numbers, and the exact percentages and rankings for 2014 vary somewhat from the 2013 list, reflecting the fact that ACS data is based on random surveys and always shows some year-to-year inconsistency. But overall, the two lists are pretty similar.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Internet access and personal health records

Posted elsewhere today on the subject of digital inclusion and personal health records:
(CYC 2.0) MetroHealth study finds “emerging inequality” in online health record adoption
(National Digital Inclusion Alliance) Lifeline comments: Maximize impact of Lifeline broadband on personal health record adoption
Here's CHRP's "Emerging Inequality: presentation" (on which I'm listed as a co-author, because they used CYC digital divide information as background).

And here's the killer chart...

Saturday, September 12, 2015

FCC Lifeline comments: Cheap broadband is necessary but not sufficient

(I wrote the following for submission to the FCC as part of the National Digital Inclusion Alliance's comments on "Lifeline modernization", which includes FCC Chairman Wheeler's proposal to add a broadband Internet option to the Federal Lifeline telephone program.This was NDIA's response to paragraph 17 of the FCC's Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM), which says: "The ability to use and participate in the economy increasingly requires broadband for education, health care, public safety, and for persons with disabilities to communicate on par with their peers. As we ensure that Lifeline is restructured for the 21st Century, we want to ensure that any Lifeline offering is sufficient for consumers to participate in the economy.")
The Commission's goals for Lifeline Modernization include not just more access to the Internet for low-income households, but meaningful social and economic outcomes of that access in the areas of education, health care, public safety, and improved opportunities for low-income disabled Americans.

Affordable broadband access is necessary, but not sufficient, to produce those desired outcomes.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Fed presentation: Broadband divide all about incomes

The research folks at the Cleveland Federal Reserve asked me to talk about broadband equity and community development issues in Cleveland, as a panelist for a four-city web conference that happened last Friday (part of their "Redefining Rustbelt" series). 

Here's my presentation.

And here's my favorite chart:

It really is all about incomes.

(The data source is the same as this.)

Friday, March 27, 2015

City broadband and grassroots wifi

Angela Siefer and I have a new guest post up at Cities Speak, the National League of Cities blog.

It's called "Municipal Fiber and the Digital Divide: A Modest Proposal".
The explosion of interest in community-owned fiber on the part of elected officials and technology leaders has created an opportunity that few have noticed: cities could leverage these investments to help lower the barriers to home Internet access that still keep low-income, less educated and older citizens out of the digital mainstream. This could be easily accomplished, and it would cost cities practically nothing. 

Here’s how: cities could allow neighboring households and community groups to share that terrific bandwidth – and its cost – by using community-owned fiber to power grassroots Wi-Fi networks. 

Almost all Internet Service Providers (ISPs) and community-owned fiber networks employ Terms of Service language that prohibits customers from extending their networks across property lines to share access with their neighbors. City-owned networks can expand the possibilities for affordable broadband access in disadvantaged neighborhoods simply by changing their Terms of Service to allow network sharing.
... Over the past eight years, cheap, modular “open mesh” Wi-Fi devices have transformed the possibilities for community networking at the very local level – the apartment building, housing estate or city block. Any building owner or group of neighbors can acquire a few of these devices for less than a hundred dollars each, distribute them at 100-200 foot intervals around a target area, connect at least one of them to the Internet, and start distributing robust, secure Wi-Fi Internet throughout the area.
Open mesh networks are providing public or “house” Internet access in thousands of hotels, apartment complexes, campuses and campgrounds. These networks are also found in some public housing estates and high-rises, installed by local housing authorities who understand the importance of affordable Internet for tenants’ income and education prospects.
There’s no technical reason why block clubs and community organizations in lower-income neighborhoods can’t use this same cheap, off-the-shelf technology to create truly affordable local broadband access, by sharing connections and costs among neighboring households. But unlike the people running apartment buildings, campgrounds and hotels, community residents will almost always find that Terms of Service restrict them from sharing bandwidth with their neighbors, at any price.
Municipal broadband providers can solve this problem with the stroke of a pen, simply by allowing neighborhood account sharing in their Terms of Service.
I've been operating an open mesh wifi network since 2009 on the block where I live in Cleveland. "Free Archwood" now consists of six $75 devices called "access point / routers"  -- two in my house, one in my garage, and three on neighbors' porches or in windows across the street. Free Archwood is regularly accessed by 50 to 60 unique users every week, many of whom are tenants in a low-income apartment building next door. 

This kind of account-sharing is an obvious way for neighbors who can't afford broadband on their own to benefit from the "arms race" in residential broadband speeds that started with  Google Fiber in Kansas City and is now spreading through other urban metros -- in part by means of city-sponsored fiber deployments like Chattanooga's EPB, which is now a pilgrimage destination for city officials and local broadband visionaries from around the country.

But guess what? Chattanooga doesn't allow account-sharing, any more than AT&T or Verizon or Comcast or Time Warner -- or Google Fiber. So EPB's groundbreaking, nationally admired service is unlikely to make much difference in the Internet access available to poor people in Chattanooga, where 29% of households had no home Internet of any kind in 2013 -- making it the 32nd worst-connected among the nation's 176 large cities.

Frustrating? Sure. But the truth is that cities like Chattanooga have no objective reason to prevent their citizens from taking full advantage of their public investments. So as municipal broadband grows, residential account-sharing is an idea whose time should be coming too.

Thanks to the League of Cities folks for letting us use their platform to share that idea.