Progress 09/01/04 to 11/30/08
OUTPUTS: Community surveys were completed in Huron County, Michigan; Pike County, Kentucky; Zapata County, Texas; and Zavala County, Texas in 2005 and 2008 to assess the impact of rural broadband investments made by the Rural Utilities Service. The results have been analyzed and are available in a final technical report at our web site at http://www.msu.edu /~larose/ruralbb. The report includes empirically validated models of the factors affecting the adoption of broadband Internet connections by rural residents and of the community impacts of Internet use. The results have been disseminated through a publication in the journal Telecommunications Policy (see publications, below) and through nine conference presentations at the Rural Sociological Society, International Communication Association, and the Telecommunications Policy Research Conference, as follows: Strover, S., Straubhaar, J., LaRose, R., & Gregg, J. (2008). The value of broadband in rural U.S. Sept 28. Telecommunication Policy Research Conference George Mason College of Law Arlington VA LaRose, R., Gregg, J., Strover, S., & Straubhaar, J. (2007). Understanding online social support in rural America: Strengthening social ties or promoting out-migration Poster presented at the annual meeting of the International Communication Association, San Francisco, California, May 24-28. LaRose, R., Strover, S., Straubhaar, J. & Gregg, J.L. (2007). Closing the rural broadband gap: Toward a broadband development strategy. Poster presented to the USDA CSREES meeting at the annual meeting of the Rural Sociological Society, Santa Clara, CA, August 2-5. Gregg, J.L., LaRose, R., Straubhaar, J. & Strover, S. (2007). Resolving One Internet Paradox While Revealing Another: Understanding Online Social Support in Rural America (Top 3 Paper). Paper presented to the International Communication Association, San Francisco, May. LaRose, R. Strover, S., Straubhaar, J. & Gregg, J. (2006). Closing the rural broadband gap: Toward a broadband development strategy. Poster presented at the Rural Development Project Director Meeting, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Cooperative State Research, Education & Extension Service, Washington D.C., February 13. Gregg, J., LaRose, R., Strover, S., and Straubhaar, J. (2006). Understanding the Broadband Gap in Rural America. Paper presented to the International Communication Association, Dresden, Germany, June. LaRose, R., Carpenter, S., Strover, S., Struabhaar, J. & Gregg, J. (2005). Internet Generations in Place: Exploring the Rural Broadband Gap. Paper presented to the Association for Internet Researchers, Chicago, October 8. Strover, S., Straubhaar, J., LaRose, R., & Gregg, J. (2005). Rural Broadband Markets: A Field Study, Part I. Paper presented to the Telecommunications Policy Research Conference, Washington DC, September 30. Gregg, J. L., Kock, S. L. & LaRose, R. (2005). Internet Paradox revisited: Community Attachment and Support in Rural America. In, Proceedings of the 3rd International Conference on Politics and Information Systems, Technologies and Applications, Orlando, FL, July 2005 PARTICIPANTS: Participants: Principal Investigators: Robert LaRose, Ph.D. Professor, Department of Telecommunication, Information Studies, and Media, 409 Communication Arts Building Michigan State University Jennifer L. Gregg, Ph.D.Associate Professor, Department of Communication, University of Louisville Sharon Strover, Ph.D.Professor, Department of Radio TV Film, University of Texas Joseph Straubhaar, Ph.D.Professor, Department of Radio TV Film, University of Texas Graduate students: Christina Wirth and Melissa Lewis (MSU), Stacia Kock (Louisville), Jeremy Spence and Nobuya Inagaki (Texas) TARGET AUDIENCES: Scholars and policy makers interested in the social and economic impacts of the Internet on rural communities. PROJECT MODIFICATIONS: Mail surveys were originally planned in all four counties. However, this method achieved an unsatisfactory completion rate in the Texas counties. Personal interviews were completed there instead.
The project resulted in the following changes in knowledge: Urban-rural differences in the adoption of high speed Internet were previously attributed to the demographics of rural communities, including age, education, and household income. The research found that the precursors of broadband adoption were the perceived benefits of high speed Internet connections, the ability to experience those benefits for oneself, and a sense of efficacy when using the Internet. These are factors amenable to community-based, self-development interventions that can close the broadband gap despite the challenging demographics of rural communities. The Connect Kentucky program apparently closed digital divides between young and old and better educated and less educated residents at the Kentucky site. There, the levels of broadband adoption reached levels close to those found in urban areas. This offered further evidence that the broadband gap may be closed through a combination of access to technology and targeted community development efforts. Social uses of the Internet increased the social support experienced by rural residents, leading to higher levels of community satisfaction and attachment, and ultimately lower intentions to relocate away from rural communities. However, the development of social connections and interests beyond local communities also increased intentions to relocate. Balancing these contravening trends, perhaps with the development of local web content and a focus on local social networks, is important to sustain rural populations. The broadband grants provided by the Rural Utilities Service had observable effects in two of the communities included in the study, in that the wireless broadband operations that were funded served a substantial number of residents, including many in areas not reached by wireline carriers. The RUS grant was suspended in a third community. In a fourth, the grant went to a local telco and it was not possible to separate the impact of the grant from the normal operations of the provider. However, broadband adoption increased substantially in all four communities. The grants also had indirect effects by hastening the entry of wireline broadband providers in rural towns. All of the RUS grants included provisions for improved public access and the utilization of broadband Internet connections through libraries increased dramatically in all four counties. The increases were from a very small base, so that less than ten percent of the broadband users took advantage library access in the 2008 surveys and two-fifths of those also had home broadband connections. Low income residents were especially likely to utilize high speed library connections. Home broadband users were more likely than non-users to plan further education, a consistent finding across all four sites. Interviews with library patrons suggested that form of public access is not suitable for online courses owing to limited hours of operation, short duration appointments for library computers, and overcrowding. Improved broadband access for educational purposes is thus in need of further attention.
- LaRose, R., Gregg, J.L., Strover, S., Straubhaar, J. & Carpenter, S. (2007). Closing the rural broadband gap: Promoting adoption of the Internet in rural America. Telecommunications Policy, 31(6-7), 359-373.
- Gregg, J. L., Kock, S. L. & LaRose, R. (2005). Internet Paradox revisited: Community Attachment and Support in Rural America. In, Proceedings of the 3rd International Conference on Politics and Information Systems, Technologies and Applications, Orlando, FL, July 2005
Progress 01/01/06 to 12/31/06
This is a field experiment to assess the impact of broadband projects funded by RUS. We continued the analysis and publication of the first wave data this year. Three particularly noteworthy findings emerged. First, using causal modeling techniques we established a possible causal link between the adoption of broadband Internet and home business start-ups. Second, those who acquired competence in seeking social support online obtained more social support, leading to stronger community attachment and then to a lower likelihood of outmigration. But an offsetting mechanism was also found in which the ability to seek online social support diminished community attachment and increased intentions to relocate. Third, a model of broadband adoption was developed and tested. Prior experience with broadband technology, the expected benefits of broadband, and confidence in its use were predictors of broadband utilization. Age and income also had direct effects, but ethnicity and
education did not. These results have direct implications for social policies aimed at closing the rural broadband gap and improving rural communities. Specifically, the research points to new initiatives that will encourage the use of broadband Internet in the workplace and facilitate "social marketing" of the Internet that emphasizes its community-building potential.
By implementing our findings, the broadband gap between rural and urban areas can be closed. If rural broadband adoption is carefully managed in a way that highlights its educational, economic, and social benefits then it can improve the lives of rural residents and help stabilize rural communities. But the opposite is also true. If broadband adoption proceeds according to the dictates of the Internet industry, emphasizing entertainment and destructive social interaction, then the spread of broadband in rural areas has the potential to undermine rural communities.
- Gregg, J., LaRose, R., Strover, S., and Straubhaar, J. (2006). Understanding the Broadband Gap in Rural America. Paper presented to the International Communication Association, Dresden, Germany, June.
- Gregg, J., LaRose, R. Strover, S., & Straubhaar, J. (2006). Resolving One Internet Paradox While Revealing Another: Understanding Online Social Support in Rural America. East Lansing, MI: Department of Telecommunication, Information Studies, and Media, Michigan State University.
Progress 01/01/05 to 12/31/05
Instrument pretests and the main first phase of data collection were successfully completed at all four sites involved in the project. These are Huron County, Michigan, Pike County, Kentucky, and Zapata and Zavala Counties, Texas. The Michigan and Kentucky surveys were completed in the spring. Unanticipated difficulties in completing community surveys in the two Texas counties were encountered. Mail survey techniques may not have been an appropriate choice for the many low-income Spanish speaking residents of the two Texas counties. This necessitated personal interviews to complete the data collection, these were finished in November. Interviews with selected local businesses, public Internet access patrons, local community development officials, and home visits to observe Internet users have also been completed. All of the first phase (pretest) data are now in hand and data analysis is proceeding. Three conference papers (see below) were presented this year that
reported preliminary findings. These were being revised for journal submissions at the end of the year. We have developed a statistical (multiple regression) model that successfully explains the adoption of broadband Internet connections. We find that although demographic factors continue to explain the digital divide between Internet users and non-users, psychological factors are more important when explaining the further adoption of broadband Internet service. Thus, user education and training may be important in moving beyond the basic gap in Internet access to address the broadband gap between rural and urban America. Among the important factors were expectations about the ability of the Internet to improve career opportunities, exposure to Internet usage at work, and the degree to which dial-up Internet usage had become a habitual and even so called addictive media consumption pattern. Using data from across the four sites we have also uncovered, through path analysis, a possible
causal linkage between broadband adoption and intentions to start home-based businesses. This is a promising avenue of investigation relative to the impacts of broadband Internet connections on community vitality.
The model of broadband Internet adoption we are developing may be used by rural broadband providers and public policy makers to stimulate adoption of broadband Internet connections in rural America. Together with our findings about a possible causal relationship between broadband adoption and home business formations, these results suggest an intriguing new development strategy for rural areas that will both expand rural broadband adoption and open employment opportunities for rural residents working in small office/home office environments. By exposing rural residents to broadband connections at work we can stimulate home broadband adoption and new business formation. These activities can in turn stimulate further Interest in obtaining broadband connections at work and at home. The results suggest policy interventions that go beyond assuring basic access to publicize community-building uses and positive experiences with Internet access.
- Gregg, J. L., Kock, S. L. & LaRose, R. (2005). Internet Paradox revisited: Community Attachment and Support in Rural America. In, Proceedings of the 3rd International Conference on Politics and Information Systems, Technologies and Applications, Orlando, FL, July.
- Strover, S., Straubhaar, J., LaRose, R., & Gregg, J. (2005). Rural Broadband Markets: A Field Study, Part I. Paper presented to the Telecommunications Policy Research Conference, Washington DC, September 30.
- LaRose, R., Carpenter, S., Strover, S., Struabhaar, J. & Gregg, J. (2005). Internet Generations in Place: Exploring the Rural Broadband Gap. Paper presented to the Association for Internet Researchers, Chicago, October 8.