Sunday, April 26, 2015

Broadband and Tech

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Americans who don’t use the Internet have more than just their lack of digital communication in common. They are also more likely to be rural, elderly and poor.

About 48% of the 50 million Americans who haven’t gone online in the last year live in nonmetro areas, according to a new report from McKinsey & Company, a management consulting firm. In contrast, only about 15% of the overall U.S. population lives in nonmetro areas.

That means the average rural resident is three times more likely to be offline than the average urban resident.

Eighty percent of people who don’t use the Internet are lower income, and more than half of the offline population is aged 55 and up.

The figures are based on a variety of federal data sources, as analyzed by McKinsey in the report “Offline and Falling Behind: Barriers to Internet Adoption.”

Opinions vary about just how much of a world leader the United States is in online use. A Pew Research Internet Project survey from September 2013 shows about 70% of Americans aged 18 and older had broadband at home, up from 66% the year before.

The Federal Communications Commission’s national broadband map says more than 91% of U.S. communities have a broadband-speed connection.

But a report from the World Economic Forum ranks the United States 34th globally in Internet bandwidth. And another report ranked the U.S. 17th in peak connection speeds during the first quarter of 2014, according the McKinsey and Company.

Whatever the nation’s worldwide ranking in broadband use, about 16% of the population remains offline. And getting that group online will mean overcoming some unique challenges, the McKinsey report says.

Broadband and Tech | Growth and Development

Brownback in Chanute Spirit AeroSystems Kansas governor Sam Brownback (left) spoke with a worker at Spirit AeroSystems about an airplane part built at the new plant in April. The company came to Chanute in part thanks to the city's high-speed broadband network.

Chanute, Kansas, two hours from Tulsa, Joplin, and Kansas City, is home to about 9,100 people. As has been true in much of the rural U.S., existing telephone and cable companies were slow to upgrade broadband service here. But local leaders decided broadband was too important to wait for and embarked on a path of self-reliance with smart investments in Internet infrastructure. Using partnerships and careful forethought, a network for Chanute has been built without having to bond or borrow funds.

Chanute’s network actually started in 1984 when the municipal electric utility installed four miles of fiber optic lines to connect a power plant and better manage electricity distribution. Soon, the city also connected the largest consumer of electricity in town, a cement manufacturer, to monitor its electrical demand in real time.

Over the next ten years, city and education leaders realized connectivity would be crucial to the success of the local economy. The school district, Neosho Community College (NCCC), and Chanute’s city leaders talked about the possibilities of an expanded network but were not able to secure funding for new connections in the ‘90s.

Then came 9/11, ultimately leading to tightened homeland security requirements for essential infrastructure. Chanute had to find a way to monitor its utility facilities and identified video surveillance via a broadband network as the best option.