Rural Broadband At A Glance, 2009 Edition

Household Broadband Use By Income 2007

USDA today issued a short Bulletin looking at rural internet usage:

Three-quarters of U.S. residents used the Internet to access information, education, and services in 2007. Broadband Internet access is becoming essential for both businesses and households; many compare its evolution to other technologies now considered common necessities—such as cars, electricity, televisions, microwave ovens, and cell phones. Although rural residents enjoy widespread access to the Internet, they are less likely to have high-speed, or broadband, Internet access than their urban counterparts. Circumstantial evidence suggests that the difference in access may lie in the higher cost and limited availability of broadband Internet in rural areas. As a result, rural residents depend more on Internet use outside of the home, in places like the library, school, and work, where broadband Internet access is available.

This is a well-written little document that might be a good handout for local elected officials and economic development boards.  It presents detailed national information in a few easy charts without getting overly technical.  USDA Economic Research Service (ERS) has more resources on rural telecommunications also.

The bulletin is based on  FCC data, USDA Agricultural Resource Management Survey and and June Agricultural Survey, Pew Internet & American Life Project, and additional state-level data.

This report draws on the research of ERS’s Resource and Rural Economics Division. Data in this analysis are drawn from the Federal Communication Commission’s (FCC) Form 477 survey and the U.S. Census Bureau’s Current Population Survey (CPS).

It does not directly reference the recently released US Census of Agriculture 2007 data for on-farm broadband use.  However, as I understand it, Census of Ag was used for the Ag Resource Management Survey so the numbers are in there.

Daily Yonder on Farm Broadband

Daily Yonder

Daily Yonder

Still gleaning data from the Census of Agriculture specific to Southwest Minnesota.  In the meantime, Blandin on Broadbandrefered to analysis and mapping done by Daily Yonder on the data for rural broadband use.  The initial USDA PR presented data as % of %, which is as annoying as it is bad statistics.  The picture will become more clear as more eyes scan the data.

Daily Yonder gives us a snapshot of broadband usage reported by farmers across the non-metro United States.  DY references a Pew survey that matches Census of Ag results for rural internet use.  I’m sceptical of some of the methodology for Census of Agriculture, so it’s nice to see the numbers line up with other sources.

There are patterns in the Census data. The most urban states have the most farms with broadband connection. Also, states with large farms also have a high percentage of operations with high speed connections. Nebraska, North and South Dakota, Iowa and Kansas are all well above the national average of broadband connection.

This paragraph immediately caught my critical eye.  If the most urban states are most wired, why are Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, Iowa, etc above average?  DY goes on to note a dicotomy—broadband usage is also highest in counties with larger farms, which they assume will have greater incomes to afford broadband.

Let’s look at Colorado.  The top counties for farms with broadband are mountain resort counties:  Pitkin, Eagle, Mineral counties.  They do tend to skew the “real ag” statistics a bit.  So be it, Aspen doesn’t count.  Next on the list comes Phillips County, Colorado, at 66% broadband usage.  You’re not going to find many ski bums in Holyoke

No. 31 on the rural broadband list is Traill County, North Dakota.  Ah ha!  Of course the progressive farmers of the Red River Valley would be above average at 56% broadband usage.  Now, 15 years ago when I worked for the Traill County Economic Development Commission in Mayville, North Dakota, we were working with community leaders to provide basic local, toll-free dial-up connections.  The result was a couple aggressive local cooperatives providing service around Mayville and the county seat at Hillsboro who upset the incumbent telcos.  Kinda feel like a proud papa to see our hard work pay out.  Well, maybe a distant uncle since most of the heavy lifting came about after I moved on.

In Traill County, the average farm size is 1,182 acres, and there were 120 farms with reported annual sales of $500,000 or more.  Yet Traill County also had local ISPs willing to go the extra mile to provide service.  It’s alot easier to do business with real people rather than a cold distant voice of Ma Bell.  I expect as in most things we’re looking for that partnership of supply and demand.

Tell us about your broadband access

Screenshot of SW MN

Screenshot of SW MN

Two broadband ISPs serve my home in a small town in Southwest Minnesota, Frontier Communications and Mediacom, apparently at Broadband Tier 2 with potential residential download speeds of 1.5 to 3 Mbps and uploads (1st Generation Data) at 200 kbps to 768 kbps .  So says a new project here in Minnesota.

Connect Minnesota, a non-profit subsidiary of Connected Nation, is releasing results of their broadband mapping project.  As I gushed in January, I learned about the project from Blandin on Broadband, who explains that “The maps are being created to help the Ultra High-Speed Broadband Task Force make recommendations to the Legislature regarding a vision for broadband access in Minnesota.”

The idea was Connected Nation (CN) contacted ISPs (internet service providers) who provided them with broadband service maps, which this firm then tested from their office in Texas.  They also asked people to test their own connections, which info was supposed to keep the ISPs honest.  I clocked our cablemodem-linked network at the office at 7286 kbps d/l 512k u/l.

Connect Minnesota has posted PDF & gif maps showing infrastructure, availability and speed on the ground, as well as an interactive map here.  The screenshot above is from the interactive map (which is a bit clunky & times out relatively quickly IMHO).  They have an address finder so you can easily pinpoint your home location and inventoried service providers, although it is unclear which providers provide which speeds.

It’s nice in theory but I wonder how much the ISP info really got tested.  CN did move their testing from Texas to Chicago after some criticism tho the biggest holes in the donut are Outstate Minnesota.  Come out on the Buffalo Ridge and try your gee-whiz gizmos.  A quick lookup for a co-worker who lives out in the country looks like they mapped the Frontier service area, not necessarily where DSL actually works.  It would be nice to have different types of service providers—Cable, DSL, wireless—as separate layers but I expect they were trying to keep it simple.  The interface should be relatively easy for non-GIS types to navigate and provides some good information for consumers and policymakers.

Minnesota’s Broadband Taskforce is meeting today to look over the report for themselves, which I expect Blandin on Broadband will fill us in on ASAP.  Myself, I’ll have to try the site at home and see if it loads at all for anybody still on dial-up 🙂 .

A Chicken in every pot, Broadband in every home.

Saw this @NYTimes twitterfeed related to an earlier post on broadband in the stimulus packages. Yes, I admit it, I subscribed to the New York Times feed.  I don’t like the Yankees, I don’t like TIME magazine, and I don’t read the Yankee Times, not even the Sunday Times.  I even hold it against other unrelated newspapers that use the word ‘Times’ in their names.   But I’ll follow links like a puppy chasing a bone.

“This also seems to be a rather sound policy choice because, as I look at it, the noise about a broadband gap is hooey. With new cable modem technology becoming available, 19 out of 20 American homes eventually will be able to have Internet service that is faster than any available now anywhere in the world. And that’s without one new cable being laid.”

Does Broadband Need a Stimulus?

Is that broadband for 19 of 20 they say?  Blandin Foundation is tracking a broadband mapping project that the State of Minnesota is contracting to complete.  Results are due out 2 Feb 09.  It will be interesting to see how ubiquitous broadband really is here, right now.  It may be more interesting to see if people trust the results.

I am all for choices and competition.  Yet I have some major trust issues with the incumbent local exchange carriers (and I use the term loosely to include entrenched cable as well as telephone-based corporations).  Just because they HAVE the technology, doesn’t mean they will offer it broadly or equitably.  This is one reason I get really excited about projects like services provided by the City of Windom, Minnesota.

Did I mention I have some trust issues here?

The first post in this NYT series addressed the imminent DTV changover. Digital Television. yawn. Don’t get me started on the wasteland of television.

“it’s great that he mentioned rural and broadband”

Infonaut Ann Treacy does a blog at Blandin on Broadband, focusing on broadband use, access and trends as a project of Minnesota’s Blandin Foundation.  She had an interesting post this weekend on including rural broadband projects in President-elect Barack H. Obama’s proposed economic stimulus package.

I have been interested in applications of broadband technology since I was in college, in particular when I worked for the now-defunct Center for the New West think tank in Denver.  This makes it all the more ironic that I’m still mired on dial-up at home, but that is a post for a day to come.

The post brings in two other salient points.

  1. “broadband is all rural areas have seen or heard from Obama up to this point.” (ref. Daily Yonder)
  2. “we’re pouring more money into a solution that didn’t work the first time around” (ref. Public Knowledge)

I have personal issues with the stimulus packages we’ve seen last year and this;  however, aside from that, on a professional level we should be concerned about larger issues present.  Broadband is great, but it’s just a tool. We need broader rural development strategies.  We also need much better research benchmarking economic development tools that work.  You know that.  I know that.  It’s just not cheap nor easy to accomplish.

Treacy’s packing alot to think about into this focused, tightly-written blog. I suppose I ought to take notes.

-john shepard