A Less Linear Approach

  I usually leave major NTCA meetings feeling simultaneously impressed and energized; impressed by the scope of issues that are implicated by rural broadband and the rural condition, generally, and energized by the ingenuity and opportunities they present.

This week’s Fall Conference featured a panel of three students – two high school and one college – who shared their perspectives on broadband connectivity. They discussed usage patterns for school, work and social needs; aspirations for the future and their individual desires to live in connected rural areas; and how parents’ “grounding kids from their phones” was a failed exercise in discipline when one mom realized she could not text her daughter.

I tend to view broadband applications in a somewhat linear form: how does broadband improve education, health care, economic development or public safety? But, three articles I read during a series of airport delays following the conference taught me about the scope of what broadband can do, and how increased connectivity is spilling back to effect change in so-called “brick and mortar” environments. If Robert Frost contemplated the road not taken, I was left thinking about analyses less linear.

You Have Built It...and They Have Stayed

New Edge  As the snail-like (yet doggedly persistent) recovery from the Great Crash of 2008-09 continues, one measure of economic health—the nation’s unemployment rate—had fallen from above 10% to its current level just south of 5%. But that’s an aggregate number. Certain demographic groups have done better than others, and some have seen their situation deteriorate substantially.

Just look at men in their twenties without a college degree, for example. In 1990, 4% of that demographic had not worked in the previous twelve month period. In 2015, that number ballooned to 20%.

So if these young men are not working, exactly what are they doing? Economists from Princeton, the University of Rochester, and the University of Chicago have studied that very question and concluded that many are living in their parents’ basements, playing video games.

The Key to Bridging the Digital Readiness Gap: Taking the Leap

New Edge  Though broadband availability is a key factor impacting adoption, it is far from the only one. Another critically important factor is each individual user’s degree of preparedness and comfort in utilizing digital tools.

A new study from the Pew Research Center suggests that approximately half of all Americans are not yet fully comfortable using the Internet for purposes of online learning.

In the study, entitled “Digital Readiness Gaps,” Pew uses cluster analysis to place survey respondents into one of five categories based on their views of using the Internet for online learning. Pew then places these categories into one of two larger groups: “relatively hesitant,” and “relatively more prepared.”

Based on their views of using the Internet for online learning, Pew places 52% of respondents into the “relatively hesitant” group. This includes “the unprepared” (14%)—those with relatively lower levels of tech adoption, who need help setting up new tech devices; “traditional learners” (5%)—active learners that have technology, but are not as likely to use the Internet for pursuing learning: and “the reluctant” (33%)—those with higher levels of digital skills than “the unprepared,” but low levels of awareness of new education technology concepts.

Pole Attachment Battle Brews in Tennessee

  A Nashville, Tenneesse council is set to vote tonight on an ordinance that would enable Google Fiber faster access to utility poles. The "One Touch Make Ready" (OTMR) provision would allow Google Fiber to manage all aspects of make-ready preparations on existing utility poles, a key component of the company's ability to string its fiber across Nashville and Davidson counties.

Unfortunately for Google, a competiing resolution is also on the council's agenda. Although a vote on the measure is slated to occur, it would have no binding impact because it is only a resolution, unlike the OTRM ordinance that is on the table.

 


This sample exists down the street from my house, and has been deployed this way for more than two years since the local electric utility upgraded its facilities. The craftmanship above street level is matched only the care dispensed by the property owner's gardener, who mulched the base of the pole while tending to the nearby trees. 

 

There May be 57 Channels and Nothing On*...But at Least It Will Be Crystal Clear

  Though there may not be much that can be done to improve the quality of television programming, consumers continue to embrace new technologies which will bring the same old dreck into their homes in razor sharp focus.

In fact, a newly-released report from Strategy Analytics’ Intelligent Home Group predicts that by 2020 250 million viewers worldwide will be watching television using high dynamic range (HDR) enabled TVs.

HDR is one of the most important components of Ultra HD TV, the new standard which is being introduced around the world. It improves TV pictures by increasing the range of colors and brightness. HDR programming has been launched by online video services such as Netflix and Amazon, and is expected to be introduced by leading broadcasters and pay TV companies over the next couple of years.

Strategy Analytics predicts that the sale of HDR-enabled sets will grow to 58 million units in 2020, and that the total number of households will exceed 100 million. In the U.S., HDR-enabled sets are expected to be in 25 percent of homes within four years.

Disproving the Altima Factor

  A friend of mine once dismissively assessed a Nissan Altima as "all show, no go." A similar reaction seemed to plague Apple's release of the new iPhone last week, but since then, a growing number of reports indicate that for all the phone's pedestrian appearances, the processors and improved cameras are the hidden headlines. If that is the case, then this device might be characterized as, "all go, little show."

Something's Growing, Over-the-Top

  According to Park AssociatesOTT Video Market Tracker service, over-the-top video subscriptions have increased by 12% since the third quarter of 2014.

“We have already seen a steady climb thus far in 2016,” said Parks Associates’ senior director of research Brett Sappington. “With Hulu’s shift to a subscription-only approach, OTT video subscription penetration in the U.S. market will continue to rise through the end of this year.”

Parks also measures an index they dub the Net Promoter Score (NPS), which provides an indication of how likely subscribers would be to recommend a particular service to their friends. As such, the NPS serves as a proxy for customer satisfaction.

The overall leader in NPS might not be a surprise: Netflix. Second place, however, is claimed by the WWE Network, followed by Hulu and MLB.TV.

Lessons in Aging: iPhones and Roller Coasters

  Sometime over Labor Day weekend, I looked around the gym and saw that I was about 20 years older than the next youngest player on the basketball court. And then I realized that the same mathematical reality had existed during the softball game the day before. So, I was not very surprised when I found my left heel hurting and my right knee clicking by Sunday afternoon.

I am not the only one who is aging. Apple is due to release the next iPhone tomorrow. For its ninth birthday, the anticipated innovations (at least on the hardware side) are promising slim pickings. To be sure, it would be difficult even under the best of circumstances to repeat the sizzle that has accompanied prior product launches, especially as competitors release increasingly savvy products to market. One rumored change to the iPhone includes the elimination of the headphone jack, which should at once improve water resistance and render millions of existing headphones useless.

New York Community-Based Providers Receive Broadband Grants

NTCA–The Rural Broadband Association member companies Armstrong Telephone Co. of New York (Addison, N.Y.), Germantown Telephone Co. (Germantown, N.Y.), Margaretville Telephone Co. (MTC; Margaretville, N.Y.) The Middleburgh Telephone Co. (MIDTEL; Middleburgh, N.Y.) and TDS Telecom (N.Y.) are round one winners of the New NY Broadband Program grant. The companies were among the 25 recipients that received a part of the $75.8 million investment in broadband—$54.2 million of which will be funded by the state and $21.6 million of which will be funded by private investments.

Connected Devices and Personal Connections

  In six days, I will submit a press application for next year's Consumer Electronics Show (CES), which is scheduled for January 2017 (for reviews of last year's CES, please scroll to the bottom of this page) Last year's CES was all about connected devices - industrial, household, health care, security, and more. Those trends are not expected to abate anytime soon. A new Business Insider report predicts that by 2020, 34 billion devices will be connected to the Internet. Although 10 billion are expected to be computers and smart phones, the remaining 24 billion are expected to fall into broader bucket that includes everything from manufacturing machinery to athletic wear. The market for these devices is expected to reach nearly $6 trillion by 2021. While there will be a substantial number of consumer-focused devices available, it is expected that industrial applications will outpace household use and constitute the bulk of the market's spending.

The opportunities seem enormous. And, Christopher Mims, writing in the Wall Street Journal, observes that they can be made even larger.