Travelogue: Mescalero, New Mexico

  Friends and family often have questions about the various trips I take for work. Much has been said about how the thrill of travel can tarnish over time, and while I certainly have not reached the depths of that point, I do find myself dissuading people from the impression that a trip to Dallas or Indianapolis was anything more than a few days in a non-descript hotel with (maybe) the opportunity to take a walk in the evening when time permits.

But when travel takes me to smaller places, I find myself on an inverted side of the conversation: friends and family raise eyebrows when I explain that my destination is a two-hour drive from an airport to a small town of which no one has ever heard. From my perspective, however, those are sometimes the best trips, because they offer an opportunity to see something that few others ever see, and to learn about things through actual experience, rather than through anecdotal accounts provided by others.

View from edge of tower installation, approx. 10,000 feet elevation.

Ex Machina? Maybe Not Quite Yet...

New Edge  Despite numerous media reports that armies of robots are coming to snatch jobs away from hard-working Americans, so far, their impact has been minimal. For one thing, the eighty-six consecutive months of job growth would certainly indicate that jobs are not being destroyed in any widespread manner. Additionally, the 4.4% unemployment rate—very near the level that economists would deem “full employment”—would tend to indicate that any worker unfortunate enough to be displaced by a robot should be able to find alternative employment, and that robots have not (yet) had a permanent impact on the job market.

Further, if robots were indeed making an appreciable dent in the work force, we would expect them to replace the least productive workers, and thus overall worker productivity would climb. The reality, however, is just the opposite—overall growth in labor productivity has been relatively flat since 2011. Clearly, the long-anticipated impact of robots and artificial intelligence in the workplace has yet to be felt.

It's Officially Official...Wireless Households are in the Majority

New Edge  It’s a milestone you could see coming from a mile away, and now it’s finally here: over 50% of U.S. households do not have a wireline phone.

As reported in an early release of the results of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC’s) National Health Interview Study, July-December 2016, 50.8% of U.S. households are wireless-only, 39.4% include both a wireline and wireless phone, 6.5% have a wireline but no wireless phone; and 3.2% have no telephone at all.

For the same time period a year ago, 48.3% were wireless-only, 41.2% included both a wireline and wireless phone, 7.2% had a wireline but no wireless phone; and 3.1% had no telephone at all. The percentage of wireless-only households has grown steadily over the past several years from 41.0% in July-December 2013 to the current 50.8%.

Hey Siri?...Write Me a Blog Post

New Edge  Apparently, we are becoming increasingly comfortable talking to our electronic devices. According to a recent study conducted by GfK, more than three-quarters—76%--of U.S. consumers between the ages of 13 and 64 have used the voice control feature on one or more of their devices.

Further, those consumers who are using voice control technologies do so for a variety of purposes: 69% have used speech to operate a smartphone; 21% used voice with a tablet; 20% to operate their car radios or GPS devices; 18% to control computers; and 14% to operate their television sets.

However, what many consider to be the truly “game changing” voice control technology--the Digital Home Assistant (DHA)--has proven somewhat sluggish in terms of consumer adoption. Amazon’s Echo/Dot and Google Home are examples of DHAs, and have been on the market for approximately two years.

GfK found that only 11% of U.S. consumers currently own a DHA. Of the 89% who do not, only 3% indicated that they were “very likely” to purchase such a device in the coming year.

What I Learned in Harrisburg

  Although I was raised in Ohio, I have been developing a bit of a relationship with Pennsylvania over the past decade. It started with a series of summers camping in Lancaster, complemented by time in nearby York County, and injected with periodic trips to Harrisburg, the state capital. And Philadelphia too, of course, for the big-city vibe in the state.

This past week, I spoke at the Pennsylvania Economic Development Association (PEDA) spring conference. I learned a lot from the other speakers, who discussed work on the Port of Philadelphia and shipping issues, as well freight that traverses the state via rail or roadway (did you know that a Walmart distribution center in Bethlehem can reach 95 percent of the U.S. population in two days?). Other speakers described their local and regional businesses, and several (including a firm that manufactured paper for Lincoln's inauguration) have pivoted to meet changing market demands and technologies. Fortunately, several of the morning speakers noted the need for broadband, so my sales pitch in the afternoon was already primed.

National Unfamiliarity with Cyber-Security Projected to Get Better with Age

  A recent report from Pew Research Center indicates gaps in cyber-security awareness, but finds that younger users are more likely to have a better understanding than older users.

The report, issued last month, relies on data gathered last summer from more than 1,000 adult internet users in the U.S. The on-line survey consisted of 13 questions about cyber-security topics, including VPNs, two-factor authentication, and encryption.

The median respondent answered five of the 13 questions correctly. Twenty-percent answered more than eight questions correctly, and only one percent obtained a perfect score.

At Long Last...Some Love for Economists?

New Edge  We economists are the Rodney Dangerfields of the nation’s capital: even in a city filled with lawyers and Congressmen, we still can’t get any respect. But that could be changing—at the FCC, at least.

Last week, at an event sponsored by the Hudson Institute, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai announced that he was creating a new Office of Economics and Data (OED) within the Commission. Pai envisions the OED combining economists and other data professionals currently scattered throughout the Commission into a central location, where their work could be leveraged by the various FCC bureaus.

In his remarks, Pai outlined the problems with the status quo: economists are not systematically incorporated into policy work at the FCC; they tend to work in silos that impede their productivity and impair agency efficiency; cost-benefit analysis at the Commission tends to be ignored; and data collection efforts tend to be ineffective and overly burdensome.

"Congress Maintains Strong Consumer-Focus for Privacy Protection," or "Congress Blocks FCC Privacy Rules" (Hint - They're Both True!)


  Spoiler Alert: Congress has blocked the FCC from implementing new broadband privacy rules. Will this leave you and your data unprotected? No – existing FCC and other Federal guidelines provide a robust framework for consumer protection.

About two years ago, I put on a nice tie and sat as a panelist at an FCC public workshop to address broadband consumer privacy (see my report, here). I appeared on a panel with representatives from AT&T, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), a state attorney general’s office, and NTIA. I explained that while community-based providers such as NTCA members collect consumer data for billing and other management purposes, my conversations with many members revealed that they do not collect personal data that may relate to their customers’ browsing habits. And, even when NTCA members obtained data for administrative or network management purposes, they generally used the same protocols for BIAS as they applied to their traditional regulated operations.  Members explained two reasons for this approach: (1) administrative efficiency of maintaining a single set of privacy protocols, and (2) a personal, community-based commitment to securing their customers’ data. In each of my conversations with companies that collectively serve a large swath of members, their responses evidenced consistency in the close and careful attention paid to protecting personal information no matter the service to which the customer subscribes.

Show Me the Numbers

New Edge  Though much maligned (“lies, damned lies, and statistics,” anybody?), the truth is that quantitative data can indeed play a significant role in better understanding the magnitude of a particular problem or the potential gains to be realized from solving it.

Case in point: recently, Senators Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) introduced S. 645, the “Measuring the Economic Impact of Broadband Act of 2017.” The bill was co-sponsored by Senators Angus King (I-Maine), Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.), John Boozman (R-Ark.), Al Franken (D-Minn.), and Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska).

The bill directs the Secretary of Commerce to conduct an assessment and analysis of the effects of broadband deployment and adoption on the nation’s economy, collaborating with government agency heads, representatives of business (to include rural and urban ISPs and telcos), state, local and tribal government agencies, and consumer and community organizations. Within a year, the Secretary is then to deliver to Congress a report detailing—and quantifying—the findings.

Anticipating Economic Returns of Rural Telehealth

Rural Americans face a number of very dramatic health challenges. They tend to be older, less affluent, and subject to higher instances of chronic disease than their urban counterparts. Despite the fact that the United States as a whole spends more on health care than any other Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development country, rural Americans continue to face lower life expectancies than those living in urban areas.

Telehealth—“the remote delivery of health care services and clinical information using telecommunications technology”—holds tremendous potential to improve the quality, cost and availability of health care in rural areas.

A recent Smart Rural Community (SRC) white paper, “Anticipating Economic Returns of Rural Telehealth,” outlines the case to be made for increasing adoption of telehealth in rural areas, and throughout the country. 

According to the paper, the nonquantifiable benefits of telehealth are numerous: improved access to specialists, speedier treatment, the comfort of remaining close to home, eliminating the need for long-distance transportation, the ability for health care providers to sharpen their skills, and improved patient outcomes.