327136_thumbnailAt the end of 2012, TechNet released a report that “rates the states [of the United States] on indicators of broadband adoption, network quality, and economic structure as a way of taking stock of  where states stand” with the following remarks:

States are actively pursuing ways to use broadband to promote economic development, build strong communities, improve delivery of government services, and upgrade educational systems. The ingredients for meeting those goals are fast and ubiquitous broadband networks, a population of online users, and an economic structure that helps drive broadband innovation and investment in new broadband uses.

If access and use are two foundations for digital literacy, then it seems important to separate the hype (often from providers with a financial stake in the outcome) about “catching up” to the pack from the realistic assessment of whether people can get online and use tools properly. I got interested in this report after reading part of the report about Canada called Lagging or Leading? The State of Canada’s Broadband Infrastructure. Canada is quite different from the United States, and so I started thinking about whether the United States had some plans and reports. Of course, there are a boatload of them from both governmental resources as well as private firms.

The TechNet report separated the states of the United States, and that interested me. Knowing a lot about Ohio because I’ve done a lot of grant writing and research writing on the state, I was curious about Ohio’s ranking. The TechNet report is called TECHNET’S 2012 STATE BROADBAND INDEX: Where States Rank as They Look to High Speed Connectivity to Grow Strong Economies and Vibrant Communities. In it, the state I live in fares poorly.

Ohio ranks poorly

Ohio is ranked 39 overall (out of 50).  Index values were calculated from three measures chosen for the study: adoption (Census-based trend data on state broadband adoption), network quality (network speeds within the state + percentage of households passed by fiber optic broadband infrastructure), and economic structure (a measure of the percentage of jobs in a state that can be counted as information and communication technology industries + “apps intensity,” a measure developed as an index of the number of jobs in apps development, which the authors point to as a forward-looking measure). 100 was the average index value of all states; the state that was Number One overall was Washington, with an index value of 152. Ohio’s index value was 88. Ohio trails states such as South Carolina, West Virginia, Alabama, and Oklahoma.

Looking at the breakdown of the three measures of the study (Table 2), Ohio earned an 86 on adoption, a 75 on network quality, and a 103 on economic structure—the only area the state is slightly above average. Luckily enough, the report contains a discussion of Ohio (p.21–22), likely because Ohio is a relatively large and populous state, often important for presidential elections, and contains The Ohio State University (the largest in the nation).

The report admits that with recent statewide and private investments, Ohio is likely to move up in the ranks.

Ohio started investing in infrastructure in 2007, which of course came right before the world economic collapse in 2008. Ohio had launched a county-based initiative for access; in Ohio, the largest cities and their counties (Columbus, Cleveland, Cincinnati, Toledo) far well in any kind of initiative because of the higher education levels, population densities, and existing infrastructure of these areas. But Ohio also has 32 counties (36% of all Ohio counties) that are part of federally designated as Appalachian. Most of these counties have higher unemployment, lower wages, and higher poverty than national averages.

According to the most recent Current Population Survey that included computer use (Table 3A), 63% of Ohioans surveyed older than age 3 access the Internet at home. OhiovFairfieldMy county, Fairfield, a county that abuts the one that houses the state capital of Columbus, has better percentages of Internet access, computer ownership, and home broadband subscriptions than the state percentages, according to the Connect Ohio report on Fairfield County.

Among the residents that do not own a computer, 86% say that they don’t need one (versus 59% state), and 29% say “computers are too complicated” (versus 13% at the state level). In addition, 42% said owning a computer was too expensive (Fairfield County’s poverty rate is 11.2%, lower than the state average of 15.8%, according to a report I just worked on for the Ohio Association of Community Action Agencies, State of Poverty 2012).

The “computers are too complicated” response suggest that access is tied to folks’ perception of use: if it’s too confusing, why would I spend money on a computer? I find this answer really interesting, in fact. Part of what I see happening here is not that there is a problem with access—for instance, next year when she enters high school, my stepdaughter gets an iPad to use for all four years—but that there is a perception problem. For instance, mostly this stepdaughter gets assignments in her 8th grade courses to create a posterboard or other projects that are not computer-related. In fact, her teachers and school do not emphasize computer use at all. At least two of her teachers do not use online grading systems to communicate with parents as they are required to do. And as a result of that (and another female adult in her life that thinks and says that computers are a boy-thing), she doesn’t learn a whole lot about computers.

I keep thinking that the connection between use and access isn’t this way: access→use but is this: access↔use. And I keep thinking that there is some value in family-based computer instruction, which is something I’ve been thinking about for my business development. Would it be useful and interesting to teach not only kids but also their parents some aspects of computer use to persuade them of the value of this literacy?

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