Monday, January 22, 2007

Coshocton CTC leader featured on PBS blog

Sue Shipitalo of the Coshocton County Resource Network was featured last week in a post about the broadband divide on PBS's Media Shift blog.

Beyond the political rhetoric and research numbers, there are real people stuck on the wrong side of the digital divide in communities around the nation and the world. Sue Shipitalo, who is trying to help bridge the divide in rural Ohio, wrote to me about her own personal experience having to use dial-up.

“I find the issue of broadband access important in so many ways, the unequality of accessing basic information,” she said via email. “Those who have high speed access can’t imagine living without it. For me when I hear ‘go online to view the rest of this segment’ or ‘access our podcast,’ I know that those things are out of reach for me. I feel left out. My kids are left out.”

In an editorial in her local newspaper, Shipitalo made an eloquent case for universal access by mentioning three times she could not access information online — from government sites — because she was using a dial-up line. While she has worked hard to bring attention to the problem, she has grown tired of all the talk with little action:

So, we have need and we have talk. Who does the issue of equal access to the Internet fall to in our area? Where is the leadership going to come from to pursue this issue which is so important to economic development and the personal development of the residents of Coshocton County [in Ohio]? How important is coordinating the efforts, both public and private, to best research and utilize the resources available to us?

Our volunteer groups have worked hard to illustrate the need for improved technology services. However, I believe that resources need to be dedicated to developing a strategic technology plan for our Coshocton County. More importantly, there needs to be a central coordination of efforts where information can be exchanged and utilized for the benefit of all.
Read the whole post -- it's a great review of the issue with lots of useful links.

(h/t Benton Foundation Headlines)

Friday, January 19, 2007

Toledo announces wireless broadband initiative

Toledo Blade yesterday:
The city of Toledo could become the first major city in Ohio to have wireless Internet access citywide under a proposal presented yesterday by Mayor Carty Finkbeiner.

A leading potential bidder is EarthLink, which operates the wireless or "wi-fi" network in Philadelphia, although Buckeye CableSystem, Inc., AT&T, and others are expected to bid for the citywide license.

Mr. Finkbeiner, who has boasted of Toledo's 2005 designation by Intel Corp. as the fifth "most-unwired" city in the nation, said his administration has distributed a request for proposals (RFP) for providers who could make wireless Internet service available throughout the city's 88 square miles.

... The mayor said the contract would not cost taxpayers a penny, but would provide plenty of benefits: free wireless service to city agencies, such as police and fire departments; free wireless access in certain public buildings and outdoor areas; and discounted wireless service for low-income people. Most people would pay an undetermined fee to use the service.

... He said the wireless network would make fast Internet speeds available to families that don't have high-speed telephone or broadband cable connections in their homes.

"When we talk about the lower income we're really talking about the children who need to do research, do their homework. They need access," he said. He said dial-up access to the Internet is so slow that many sites effectively are off-limits.

Ms. Scott said the cost to a regular subscriber is likely to be $20 to $25 per month, and half that to people who qualify for the low-income discount. It would be free in public housing developments.

... The RFP states that "although some indoor users may be able to connect to the system, the service is not intended to compete with commercially available Internet service and should not replace existing home or business Internet access."

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Verizon sells phone businesses in three NE states: Ohio next?

The New York Times reports that Verizon Communications has sold its telephone business in Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont. From the article:
The company has indicated that it may also divest local phone operations in more rural parts of the Midwest, though it was unclear whether any deals were in the works.
Back on May 10, Dionne Searcey and Dennis Berman reported in the Wall Street Journal (not on line) that:
Verizon Communications Inc. is fielding offers for two big packages of traditional telephone lines that could have a combined value of up to $8 billion, say people familiar with the matter. The possible sales are part of the New York-based phone giant's strategy to delve deeper into the wireless and broadband arenas, while getting out of the traditional phone business in U.S. areas that aren't slated for fiber upgrades -- which allow the company to sell more Internet-based services -- and therefore are less valuable to the company in the long run... Verizon also has been shopping a package dubbed "GTE North" that comprises about 3.4 million access lines in former GTE Corp. territories in Indiana, Illinois, Ohio and Michigan. [emphasis added]
Here's a PUCO map of Verizon's "GTE North" service territory in Ohio. Over 800,000 households in this territory were served by GTE when it merged with Bell Atlantic in 2000 to form Verizon. The company has been notoriously slow to roll out DSL to many of these households -- not just in its large rural service areas, but in cities like Oberlin as well.

Up for sale? Not "slated for fiber upgrades"? The new Governor (who represented a lot of this territory in Congress) might want to look into Verizon's intentions for high-speed service in Ohio.

2005 data: Half of Cleveland adults not on the Net

How serious is the digital divide in Ohio's big cities? There's not much local data about computer and Internet use, but we know from national surveys like this one from Pew/Internet that poorer and less educated Americans remain far less likely to be Internet users than the whole population. And we have this:

In 2005, Cleveland Digital Vision purchased recent survey data from consumer polling firm Scarborough Research for the seventeen ZIP codes in the city of Cleveland. (Scarborough conducts regular surveys of adult consumers in 75 U.S. metropolitan areas). The data we acquired on computer ownership and Internet use was included in testimony presented to the PUCO in its investigation of the merger between SBC and AT&T.

Here's how our testimony summarized what the data told us:
Only 55% of all Cleveland adults have computers in their homes. Only half are using the Internet at all, and barely 4 out of 10 have used the Net from home in the past month. Internet access of any kind falls to only 34% for adults with high school degrees or less, and to just 30% for those with household incomes below $25,000. The percentages are worse for African-Americans than for whites, and worse for residents of Hispanic origin that for either blacks or whites. Fewer than half of our households – possibly as few as 40% -- have Internet service at any speed, and only 20% have broadband connections.

Thus our survey data shows that Cleveland residents, especially those of lower income and educational attainment, remain substantially disconnected from the Internet, stuck on the wrong side of the digital divide and outside the communications mainstream.

... the Cleveland adults surveyed by Scarborough Research were significantly less likely to access the Internet than the national sample of adults polled by Pew, in every demographic category except the highest (i.e. college graduates and households making $75,000 or more). Adults in low income households, adults with high school educations or less, Black and Hispanic adults -- all show Internet access rates in Cleveland that are 10 to 20 percentage points lower than the national average.
Would the numbers look any better in Cincinnati, Toledo or Dayton? Probably a little better -- like their numbers for personal income and educational attainment, the two factors most closely linked to Internet use. But to the extent that other Ohio cities share Cleveland's problems of poverty and educational failure, it's a pretty safe bet that they share Cleveland's digital divide as well.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

USA Today: $10 broadband, $20 "naked DSL" from AT&T

There's an article in yesterday's USA Today about affordable broadband deals coming to AT&T customers, as part of the company's recent settlement with consumer groups to get FCC aproval of its merger with BellSouth.

As the article says, AT&T now offers "naked DSL" (i.e. without voice phone service) for about $45 a month, so the settlement cuts its cost by more than half. 768 kbps DSL service with voice phone is now $15 a month, so $10 is less of a big deal -- and it's for new signups only, i.e. it's a marketing rate -- but every little bit helps.

In both cases, however, the new prices are good only where AT&T already has DSL enabled. It's not clear whether the agreement will require AT&T to extend DSL coverage to any more Ohio communities or households than are currently served.

Monday, January 15, 2007

National Conference on Media Reform

We are hot news. I spent a good amount of time at the National Conference on Media Reform talking about the One Ohio project. How could I not? Its a tremendous project. And a tremendous story. 1. A governor with a real broadband plan that includes 100% build out, intelligent consideration on how to get there, and funds for digital literacy training. 2. We were involved in the development of that plan. 3. We are taking the appropriate next steps to ensure the plan becomes a reality. Other states are working on broadband plans but do not have the community involvement that we have. Where they do have community involvement is in the development of municipal networks. Our statewide focus is unique. We are groundbreaking. Which is why we garnered a good deal of attention at the Conference and I easily recruited additional Ohio participants to our efforts.

And I must say the policy wonks at the Conference didn't miss the obvious implications that One Ohio was ready for the potential state video franchising bill. They understand we've thought it through and we have a diverse base of support. Yes, hot news we are.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Ohio farms have their own digital divide

The majority of Ohio farms still have no access to the Internet, and most of those that are connected still depend on dial-up phone modems. Farmers in every state are less connected than the general population, but Ohio's rural broadband and Internet penetration rates are among the lowest.

That's what the USDA's most recent (2005) survey of Farm Computer Usage and Ownership tells us. The study, summarized in a pdf version you can download here, found that:
  • Only 46% of Ohio farms had any kind of Internet connection in 2005, putting us firmly in the bottom quarter of all the states; and
  • even among that Net-connected minority, the share of Ohio farmers still stuck with dialup connections was the nation's third highest at 82%. Only 15% of Ohio's connected farms -- that's about 7% of all the state's farms -- had DSL or cable modem service.
Family farms are, of course, both homes and businesses. In many Ohio counties, agriculture is the first or second biggest business sector. It's an information-intensive business -- information about markets, about prices, about weather, about changing technology. And in many cases it's a business conducted far from suppliers and customers, so that modern e-commerce and communications tools can have a major impact on its competitiveness -- not to mention on its owners' quality of life.

So it's no wonder that concern about Ohio's lagging national position in rural broadband penetration transcends political parties. How long can state and community leaders of either party tolerate a broadband market that bypasses the major economic activity of many counties?

Statewide meeting on Strickland "Broadband Ohio" program

ONE Ohio will hold a statewide briefing and consultation on Governor Ted Strickland's "Broadband Ohio" program on Friday, February 2 at the State Library in Columbus.

The Broadband Ohio policy statement includes our new Governor's commitments to:
... bring the next generation internet to every one of Ohio’s 88 counties, connecting schools, colleges, and government while at the same time helping private enterprise or public-private partnerships in communities to offer competitively priced local services in areas that are currently underserved...
... take steps to close Ohio’s digital divide by supporting community efforts to bring the benefits of broadband and technology training to low and moderate income Ohioans.
The Ohio Community Computing Network and our partners in the Ohio Digital Divide Working Group have launched an effort called "ONE Ohio (On the Net Everywhere in Ohio)" to support these commitments. We're holding local ONE Ohio meetings with interested leaders and activists in communities throughout the state, to share information about broadband and digital divide issues and to discuss potential local intiatives to promote digital access and inclusion.

Our first statewide ONE Ohio gathering is a chance to meet many of these people -- from big cities as well as small towns, from all regions of the state, and from a variety of groups and constituencies -- who share the same vision of an Ohio that's fully and fairly connected to the Net.

It's also a chance to talk with the "Broadband Ohio" transition coordinator and other Administration officials about plans to implement the Governor's commitments... and how we can help in our own communities.

The gathering will begin at 10 am and should end by 2 pm. Directions to the State Library building are here. There's plenty of free parking.

We'll provide a (working) lunch. There's no charge, but we'd appreciate an RSVP by Monday, January 29 at the latest. You can email Bill Callahan at Digital Vision or Sunny Chen at the OCCN office .