The story reprinted below needs wider readership and attention. This is a follow up to this post I did earlier.
ConnectKentucky has gone national and is getting your politicians to drink the “shine” (trick or prank) they are serving:
True: if you think one connection one zip code is coverage.
True: if you think 200 kbps is high speed
True: ask people 100 years ago if they needed phone service.
True: the fox is helping build the henhouse.
True: also if you have one foot on a block of ice and one foot in hell, on average you are comfortable
I hope some A List tech bloggers will take up the cause to expose ConnectKentucky as a worthless “feel good” program that is spreading. ConnectKentucky doesn’t address the real needs of improving true high speed internet access to population and commerce centers. ConnectKentucky is a way for politicians to avoid the bigger issues and keep most constituents at bay – and ignorant.
Bowling Green, KY, Daily News, March 15, 2008
By AMEERAH CETAWAYO, The Daily News, firstname.lastname@example.org
(Linkback expires after 14 days, so here is the entire story.)
Bowling Green-based ConnectKentucky’s scope and mission became national last year as its strategy to boost broadband adoption beckoned attention from the nation’s capital.
Now as a national nonprofit umbrella organization called Connected Nation, its Bowling Green headquarters have been retained as it’s expanded with initiatives in Tennessee, Ohio and West Virginia with subsidiary programs that resemble ConnectKentucky.
Connected Nation, which also provides consulting services to the state of California, has been contacted by at least 25 other states about adopting some or parts of the ConnectKentucky initiative that pushed the broadband availability in Kentucky’s mostly rural 120 counties from 60 percent to 95 percent of Kentucky households in three years – growth unmatched by any other state, according to the company.
With a new office in Washington, D.C., CEO Brian Mefford said the organization has gone from having five employees to 50 in only four years.
“We could be between 80 to 100 (employees) in the next 12 months,” Mefford said. “Our goal is to be the foremost national resource for states and communities and companies that want to close the digital divide.”
ConnectKentucky’s funding is an 80/20 split between public and private monies, with $7 million in funding from various state and federal economic development grants facilitated through the commonwealth in a three-year period. The company has received $1.4 million in private investment from dozens of entities during that period, some of which include AT&T, Apple, Cisco, IT-management company CA, Crown Castle, Computer Services, Inc., Humana, Foundation Telecommunications Inc., Intel, Lexmark, Michael Breeding Media, Microsoft, Net Tango, Red Pixel Studios, Wild Blue and Wind Stream Communications.
“We’ve been paving the road we’re racing down,”said Mark McElroy, Connected Nation’s chief operating officer and senior vice president for communications.
The organization’s state spinoffs don’t get funded until a program is in place, whether those funds are public or private, according to McElroy.
The mapping and research functions that service the organization’s work in all states in which there is a presence come from its Bowling Green headquarters. As a business, Connected Nation is organized around a shared services model where the company leverages developed intellectual property for the benefit of its state programs, McElroy said.
“Mapping and research are highly technical services and require significant investment. It would be much more costly for each state program to fully develop those specialty services,” McElroy said via e-mail. “Connected Nation’s funding primarily comes from servicing those agreements we have in place with each state, of which a portion is supported through the Bowling Green-based research/mapping unit.”
As a result, as Connected Nation’s footprint expands through the United States with more state programs, the more its headquarters will grow – boosting its economic impact locally with the increasing volume of research and mapping activity, according to McElroy.
Mefford said keeping the initiative’s roots in Bowling Green – with a supportive network from Western Kentucky University and local elected officials – is a vital part of its success.
“Bowling Green is an ideal place to be headquartered. Prospective employees and potential clients visit us here and they are consistently struck by the vibrancy of WKU, the vision and support of our state and local elected officials and a general spirit of entrepreneurship that is truly contagious,” Mefford said via e-mail. “That recipe not only helps us attract high-caliber employees and to win business, but it also means we’re regularly discussing return trips for those who come to visit with us in Bowling Green and are drawn back.”
Last year was marked by expansions into Tennessee in May, West Virginia in August and Ohio in December, according to Connected Nation.
Tennessee Senator Roy Herron, D-Dresden, represents Benton, Decatur, Henry, Henderson, Lake, Obion, Perry, Stewart and Weakley counties – areas that remain underserved by broadband availability. He said it’s important that Tennessee and other states jump on board to push broadband adoption.
“The United States ranks between 18th and 22nd in the world in deployment of and access to high-speed Internet,” Herron said. “We are in danger of still falling further behind unless we take substantial steps. I think what’s taking place with ConnectTennessee is crucial to our future as a state, the education of our children. The economies of our country are either going to be greatly benefited or put in peril by the actions we take or fail to take.”
ConnectTennessee, which organized in May 2007, has mapped out the state’s broadband availability and has more than a third of Tennessee counties engaged in forming public-private partnerships – something they hope to extend to all counties by the end of the year, according to McElroy.
Herron said ConnectTennessee has started in the right direction.
“It’s too early to tell what the impact will be,” Herron said. “We continue to be supporters of and advocates for what ConnectTennessee is doing.”
McElroy said the organization is even receiving international attention, receiving delegations from Japan, Sweden, New Zealand, South Africa and an on-going rural technology group in India in the last 18 months in Bowling Green.
“It’s not only been a domestic issue, but it’s apparent that technology has become a necessary infrastructure for all,” McElroy said. “Every state in the United States has rural communities that need broadband to be included in the growing information economy. As word of Kentucky’s success story gets out we have lots of opportunity for outreach.”
Connected Nation’s evolution continues as pending federal legislation – housed within a major farm bill – provides potential for even more growth, Mefford said.
The bipartisan Connect the Nation Act of 2007 was filed by Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Illinois, to encourage the rapid deployment of affordable broadband Internet service, particularly in rural areas. The legislation supports a grant program that would enable states to implement an initiative similar to ConnectKentucky – public-private partnerships with efforts to accelerate broadband availability and technology literacy.
“That legislation could be very vital to our growth paths in the future,” Mefford said.
How broad? Needs, definitions changing
The way broadband availability is defined can be confusing, depending on who you ask, according to Mark McElroy, chief operating officer and senior vice president for communications at Connected Nation.
While the organization stands by the Federal Communications Commission’s definition of availability – “if one resident or business within a given ZIP code can access broadband, then the entire ZIP code is considered connected” – McElroy said it is widely recognized that the decade-old definition is obsolete.
(Note: Emphasis mine.)
A new standard that would specify the speed of broadband is disputed among several parties, McElroy said, as growing broadband usage rates continually alter the bandwidth considered “fast enough.” The FCC says data transmission that is 200 kilobits per second in at least one direction (whether downloading from or uploading to the Internet) is “broadband,” but plenty of experts and interest groups say that’s too slow. The average deployment of broadband in Kentucky is 1.4 megabits – 1,500 kilobits – per second, McElory said.
ConnectKentucky scrutinizes the measurement of broadband availability by taking data from more than 81 broadband providers in the state, then combining that with census data in order to show who is being served and where gaps in service exist.
In regards to broadband pricing, urban, suburban and rural broadband customers in Kentucky have virtually the same average price across the state at $36 per month; there is less than one dollar’s difference between urban services and the slightly cheaper rural counterparts.
Affordability, however, remains an issue left mostly unaddressed by ConnectKentucky. The group recently surveyed residents without broadband across the state to measure the barriers to Internet adoption. With more than 10,000 respondents who gave more than one answer, 52 percent said “I don’t own a computer,” 41 percent said “I don’t need the Internet or don’t know why I need the Internet” – but only 17 percent said it was “too expensive.”
Other responses included “I can get Internet access somewhere else” (8 percent), and “broadband isn’t available in my area, and I don’t want dial-up” (4 percent).
UPDATE: ConnectKentucky seems to think that wired connection is the only way to get it done in rural areas. They couldn’t be more wrong. Witness:
Intel has announced plans to sell a specialized Wi-Fi platform later this year that can send data from a city to outlying rural areas tens of miles away, connecting sparsely populated villages to the Internet. The wireless technology, called the rural connectivity platform (RCP), will be helpful to computer-equipped students in poor countries, says Jeff Galinovsky, a senior platform manager at Intel. And the data rates are high enough–up to about 6.5 megabits per second–that the connection could be used for video conferencing and telemedicine, he says.
That’s what happens when the people funding an organization are in the wired business ala Cisco and AT&T.