Yesterday morning I presented a summary of a GAO report to a task force at the state legislature, which included a state representative and senator who had sponsored the bill creating the task force.
This was my first major presentation since I retired from Bell Atlantic (now part of Verizon) in 1998. I knew it was a “big deal” and was understandably nervous for weeks beforehand. Usually we dress in “business casual” for work, but yesterday was an occasion for me to wear my new suit.
I batted “cleanup.” The speakers who went on before me represented the telephone companies, cable TV companies and organizations that provide backbone facilities to major research institutions, universities, public schools and libraries. But all of those speakers either dodged the central issue or danced around it, which is, “why are our rural areas unable to get broadband access to the Internet?”
They all had their own turf to protect. Neither the phone companies nor the cable TV providers want to show their hand to their competitors, and so they didn’t really reveal very much about where they had deployed broadband infrastructure around the state.
By the time my turn came, time was running short, and the task force was becoming frustrated by the lack of useful information provided thus far. But I had sensed early in the morning that this situation was playing directly into my hand.
Without going into a lot of detail in this post, I was able to summarize the 70-page GAO report in about 15 minutes, looking directly into the eyes of the Task Force members instead of at my slides (since I had pretty well memorized my presentation). I used my best calm but authoritative voice to deliver them the message they needed to hear:
Broadband take-rates (the likelihood that people will buy broadband if it is available) are determined primarily by income and education, not rural versus urban environments.
However, this is a “chicken and egg” situation, because:
Access to broadband Internet is critical to 21st century education and income opportunities, particularly for small, isolated communities.
There is a win-win solution to this problem.
I introduced them briefly to the ConnectKentucky program, in which the government served as a catalyst by creating a public-private partnership involving computer manufacturers, providers of Internet access and other major industry players, all of whom who stand to benefit by increasing the number of broadband subscribers. I think this is a good model for our state to emulate.
They seemed very interested.
I showed them some tables I had created that listed broadband penetration rates by state. I had created the table by using housing unit estimates I got from the Census Bureau and numbers of high-speed lines serving residential households from the FCC. It showed that our state was 5th in our region and 37th in the US.
In case you’re interested, the state with the highest broadband penetration rate is Connecticut with 45%, and the state with the lowest is Mississippi with only 14%. The US average is 31%, meaning that only one in three US households have access to broadband. Chances are that you are one of these, because uploading and downloading large files is very time-consuming on dialup.
Lastly, I showed them where the US ranks in the developed world in terms of broadband subscribers per 100 inhabitants. We are #12.
Who’s ahead of us? Iceland, South Korea, the Netherlands, Denmark, Switzerland, Finland, Norway, Canada, Sweden, Belgium and Japan.
And so after 6 years of working for the state and not doing too much really exciting or very important, yesterday I got my moment in the sun.
I’m still basking. Opportunities like this don’t come often, and so you have to make the most of them when they do come around.