Today I attended the Blandin Broadband Strategy Board meeting. Mostly it’s a business meeting so I really don’t take notes but there was an issue that came up that I just had to share.
The Board members were talking about pilot projects around the state that have been created (or considered) to help rural residents, especially low-income households, get a starter kit of sorts to access broadband. A popular plan is to provide a computer (often rehabbed) and subsidize the broadband connectivity in the home for a long enough time that people might see the value and become customers at their own expense.
There are two basic challenges that come up when managing these programs that I think are a microcosm of the issue throughout the state – and probably on a national level.
The first issue is adoption. How do you provide training to the new computer/broadband users? I’ve heard the PCs for People folks claim that generally if you can get them the computer, they can use them. And I think that’s probably true for 80 percent of the users for 80 percent of the time. But the Blandin focuses on the 20 percent.
Adoption I think involves two things – providing enough training to inspire someone to find a that the technology makes their life better. Maybe that means letting them fill out a job application, or talk to family far away, or help kids learn to spell, or accessing healthcare. Part of the issue in providing training is that everyone’s hot button is different.
Adoption also means providing enough tech support when the computer goes down to get it back up – especially with low-income households. (I just broke my laptop screen five days after taking it out of the box. OK for me I pay the big bucks for a warranty and used a tone on the phone that helped the vendors realize that coming to my house would be better for them.) Computers break the cost to repair can be high and is unpredictable – so by its nature it’s hard to budget for it.
The second issue is cost. Folks in some CenturyLink or Comcast areas are in good shape with $9.95 per month (and some computer deals). I know other providers also have deals for low-income households. (Other providers are welcome to chime in!) But some areas are unserved (which is a different issue) and some areas are just too darned expensive. We looked at a couple of areas that were 3.5 times more expensive that the going regular rate.
So again no big revelation – but a reminder of some of the root issues – adoption and cost.