If you build it, they might come? (musing on broadband investments)

My TJ column tomorrow discusses the fact that New Brunswick has pervasive broadband Internet ‘access’ (i.e. availability) but the lowest percentage of households ‘accessing’ it.  If you strip out the urban areas of Moncton, Fredericton and Saint John, the percentage of homes with Internet access is likely below 60 percent.

I make the case that smarter public policy would be focused on the real barriers to Internet access – literacy, income levels, relevancy-in-daily-life, etc.

For example, New Brunswick has far fewer people working from home even though this would seem like a logical way to address high unemployment – particularly in rural areas.  I realize there are broad set of issues at play here but one thing is clear – availability hasn’t improved access.

PS – Just so we are clear – when I say percentage of households with Internet access – I mean they have Internet in the home (not the availability of Internet if they decide to choose it).

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8 Responses to If you build it, they might come? (musing on broadband investments)

  1. A truly sad statistic David. I can perhaps see a bias towards an older population in the internet stats but still access to the internet is more important in this day and age than a land line or a TV.

    The working from home figures include farmers correct? This might help explain some of the figures. A self-employed farmer would be considered work from home but a self-employed fisherman would not be.

  2. I don’t mean to undermine the serious and essentially correct point made in the article. But there’s an incongruence in this post that is troubling.

    On the one hand, you state that “New Brunswick has pervasive broadband Internet ‘access’.”

    Then you state that “I make the case that smarter public policy would be focused on the real barriers to Internet access – literacy, income levels, relevancy-in-daily-life, etc.”

    While I don’t dispute the conclusion, one wonders why a policy would continue to focus on broadband access with it is ubiquitous. What would such a policy state? “Keep on keeping on?”

    Given that ubiquity has been achieved, then *of course* you would focus on something else. Like, say, literacy, income and relevance. So while it is clear and easy to support what you are arguing for, it is difficult to comprehend what you are arguing *against*.

  3. I guess I wasn’t clear. I am arguing that governments make investment in broadband infrastructure and assume that will translate into wide usage but it doesn’t. We need to spend more time thinking about other barriers to access and not just physical infrastructure.

  4. Rupert Penjab says:

    Old guy scratches head. *Remembering* 30 years ago, when his wife said: “we have to get with this stuff….. it is the way of the future”, so he (the now old guy) ordered the stuff from the US, and built his first (really expensive) computer.
    David: I don’t get it, neither one of us are rocket scientists, but I *think* we all know that the only thing for sure is: that things change, and if you find yourself unable to move ahead with the times you will get left in the dust.

  5. A. Giroux says:

    Hi David. How does the rural usage data relate to age demographics data? Seems like another case of statistics telling you that a person with more birthdays will live longer.

  6. The population outside Moncton-Fredericton-Saint John is slightly older but not by a wide margin. In my opinion, there are a lot of reasons why the elderly should be connected to the Internet. We have mandarins and companies running around saying New Brunswick is an excellent testing ground for technology-enabled aging-in-place health care – which is based on remote monitoring – and less than three out of five households are connected in rural NB.

  7. mikel says:

    Thought somebody might mention this, but a big point is that government is NOT interested in ‘access’. While they brag about ‘access’, it should be noted that high speed internet in most rural areas is still prohibitively expensive. Add to that that seniors typically need fairly extensive instruction, and you’ve got a good reason to see why NB’s stats are low (but is it lower than the national because there is more rural?)

    I suspect that will change over time since quite soon we are going to have an elderly demographic that can’t do without internet access any more than youngsters.

    However, internet access is much like literacy-once you can ‘do it’ then it ceases to be a motivator for economic development. If all you have is a greater audience for cultural products (well, porn anyway!:) and crap from other areas, it really doesn’t increase the local economy. The point is that it is getting harder to develop any kind of business without it, but just because you have it, it doesn’t mean you are going to grow the economy. And I can’t help but wonder how many 60 year olds are thinking “hmmm, now how am I going to build this export business”

    But the point is very well made that like literacy, it is one of those statistics that indicates a problem.

  8. John Skelton says:

    This ‘not plugged in’ problem gets more serious with each rise in the importance of the internet Perhaps having an ‘internet officer’ attached to economic development offices is warranted. The statistics you quote buttress the case for this. To assuage the ire of computer service firms to such a service an arrangement whereby representatives of such firms would staff such a position – say one day a week – would bring them onboard. Bet it would be a very popular service!

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