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Blog // Connect Ohio

Roundtable Discussion: Why All Ohioans Deserve Broadband Access

By Connected Nation

In early June four men sat around a table in a soundproof room. With their headsets on and cables to each of their microphones covering the table, they were ready to talk about broadband and why it’s so important for Ohioans to be connected.

Each man tested his mic with a “check one, two, three” and then the show’s intro music began. Sitting at the table were Stu Johnson, Director of Connect Ohio and, directly across from him, Town Hall Ohio radio show host Joe Cornely. To the left of Johnson sat Ohio State University Ph.D. candidate Mark Rembert and Ohio Farm Bureau’s Senior Director for policy outreach, Brandon Kern. As sound waves jumped up and down on computer screens, the discussion unfolded.

“Conducting daily business in our lives relies on the Internet and so, in that sense, the Internet is very critical,” said Rembert.

“As technology and other applications have developed, it really is crucial even in areas of education. It’s an issue of quality of life,” said Johnson (pictured front left with jacket). “Four out of five kids access the Internet for their homework, and seven out of ten teachers deliver their homework on Internet-based platforms; so education and broadband connectivity is a big deal.”

According to The Ohio State University (OSU) study titled, “Connecting the Dots of Ohio’s Broadband Policy” about seven percent of households don’t have access to broadband. Rembert was one of the researchers who wrote the study. He said that seven percent adds up to around one million people in Ohio who mainly live in rural, countryside areas.

Those rural areas have a different set of challenges for extending broadband than seen in urban communities due to landscape and distance between households. Magnifying the problems is that access is perhaps more crucial for rural households, because it’s more difficult to shop for necessities, visit the doctor or county government offices, or even take their children to the library to do online homework.

But it’s not just individuals or families who are impacted when it comes to lack of access in rural communities. Businesses in smaller regions are often left out of the opportunity to compete in the global market or to grow their revenue because owners and operators don’t have access to the Internet.

“There are real implications for business development. For instance if we take a look at an industry like agriculture and farming today, there isn’t an aspect of your operation that doesn’t rely on good data collection online,” said Kern.

“The average household has about 9.2 connected devices in their house. Farming would be over 20. . . . Farmers are the epitome of early adopters of technology,” said Johnson. “Farmers in these rural areas have more and more demand for broadband, so what you see is what once was a low demand/low density area that wouldn’t drive much consumption for investment is now an opportunity to consider these farms as anchor institutions.”

Why broadband adoption is just as important as access

In the OSU study, researchers found that broadband helps highly skilled workers and makes them more productive, but those who are not “digitally-savvy” can often be left out of job opportunities or economic growth in their own communities.

“I don’t think that outweighs the gains that can be made from bringing broadband to rural areas, but we identified this in the policy research so that policymakers are aware of this potential, unintended effect so that broadband expansion can be coupled with workforce development policy.” said Rembert.

“That’s why we at Connected Nation focus on access, adoption, and use because technology in itself solves nothing,” said Johnson. “If you don’t ‘skill up’ the workers and teach the businesses how to be global then it will have some unintended consequences where groups of people and businesses are left out, even as access is increased. So when we target technology toward specific outcomes more is not necessarily better unless you also focus on helping people develop digitally-savvy skills.”

This means workers and businesses must understand how to properly use broadband and its tools to their advantage—making it possible for them to compete locally, regionally, and globally.

“Access is important, but adoption is equally critical to get the economic value of broadband, so people need to know how to use it,” said Rembert.

Another issue facing broadband adoption is people who are reluctant to having access or want to be a computer-free household due to cost or other factors.

“The general barriers are relevance, cost of computer ownership, and security issues. How those stack up in urban and rural locations is completely different, but in rural areas we find relevance higher and in urban we find cost being the primary barrier,” said Johnson.

“There’s a clear relationship between household income and broadband utilization, which suggests that price is a big part of it . . . it’s unfortunate because you’d hope it would be lower income households who can use broadband to get savings on goods and services that are only offered online,” said Rembert.

“In rural areas, it’s generally digital skills and relevance, regardless of the price, but sometimes relevance is triggered by small force, such as when your doctor tells you that you need to go online to schedule your appointment or to access your lab results,” Johnson added.

How can broadband reach its goal of economic development?

According to the study, there needs to be an office at the state level that works to coordinate efforts—identifying the gaps and bringing together the different stakeholders.

“In my opinion, residential broadband hasn’t really been a topic of discussion at the State House lately, which is concerning,” said Kern.

“There are so many different agencies that could benefit from broadband and see the common goal of economic development from broadband, so one of the recommendations right now is for a state broadband investment fund,” said Johnson.

The study points to the work Connected Nation and its local branch, Connect Ohio, as an example of best practices. In particular, this is because of the neutral and proactive role Connected Nation has in the conversation between telecom providers, local communities, and the government.

There are still many Ohioans without broadband connection. But, according to OSU researchers, getting access and providing adoption assistance to all Ohio families and businesses would have a two billion dollar impact for everyone in the state.

Read the full OSU report entitled Connecting the Dots of Ohio’s Broadband Policy.

To listen to the roundtable discussion,  head to Town Hall Ohio's radio show and click on episode  #549

Pictured  (left to right): Stu Johnson, Mark Rembert, and  Brandon Kern. 

 

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