Source: MICHIGAN STATE UNIV submitted to
CLOSING THE RURAL BROADBAND GAP: A FIELD EXPERIMENT
Sponsoring Institution
National Institute of Food and Agriculture
Project Status
TERMINATED
Funding Source
Reporting Frequency
Annual
Accession No.
0200989
Grant No.
2004-35401-14985
Project No.
MICL08334
Proposal No.
2004-01930
Multistate No.
(N/A)
Program Code
62.0
Project Start Date
Sep 1, 2004
Project End Date
Nov 30, 2008
Grant Year
2004
Project Director
LaRose, R.
Recipient Organization
MICHIGAN STATE UNIV
(N/A)
EAST LANSING,MI 48824
Performing Department
TELECOM INF STD MD
Non Technical Summary
Rural areas lag behind urban ones in broadband Internet acceptance, potentially inhibiting rural community development. This project examines the factors that inhibit broadband Internet adoption and community development impacts of broadband service in rural areas.
Animal Health Component
(N/A)
Research Effort Categories
Basic
100%
Applied
(N/A)
Developmental
(N/A)
Classification

Knowledge Area (KA)Subject of Investigation (SOI)Field of Science (FOS)Percent
80360993030100%
Goals / Objectives
The proposed research addresses a growing rural broadband technology gap that may require substantial public investments to close. An assessment of the consequences of those investments is essential for the formulation of sound rural development policy. Specifically, the proposed research will evaluate the short-term and long-term social impacts of Rural Utilities Service broadband technology grants program in four counties located in Michigan, Texas and Kentucky. To this end, pre-post surveys and ethnographic interviews will be completed in each of the counties four years apart.
Project Methods
The impacts of rural broadband services will be examined through a quasi-experimental research project covering the four counties. The impacts of broadband deployment will be examined through two waves of surveys of community residents and by comparing broadband adopters with narrowband Internet users and non-adopters. The baseline surveys will assess the factors promoting adoption of broadband service. The experimental treatment will consist of the broadband networks deployed by the Rural Utilities Service grantees in the selected counties. It is assumed that penetration will be minimal at the time of the first wave of research, consistent with the 1-2% adoption rates typical of rural areas. The Internet applications that local businesses, community groups, and government agencies implement through the broadband network are also tacitly part of the treatment conditions, and these are expected to vary widely between sites. Accordingly, ethnographic case study methods will be used to identify and document Internet applications developed in each community. The impacts of the broadband projects will be measured by a time series analysis of community surveys over four years. This time frame was selected since it takes four years for rural telecommunications investment to pay off in terms of community impacts . In addition to the time series component, broadband users will be compared to non-broadband Internet users and to non-adopters within both time periods. The Tailored Design Method mail survey methodology will be followed in conducting the community surveys. A random sample of residential addresses in each county will be obtained from commercial mailing list vendors. Independent random samples will be drawn for the pretest, the first year baseline study and the fourth year posttest. Important insights into rural broadband adoption and its impacts will also be gained from ethnographic observations of users and interviews with key informants in each community. We will intercept patrons of libraries, cybercafes, and other public access facilities with broadband connections and interview pioneering home broadband users to determine the unique aspects of broadband Internet services that lead rural residents to locations where high speed access is found. We will also identify and interview non-users to see what barriers they perceive to broadband Internet adoption. Using a snowball sampling technique, we will identify key informants in telecommunications, business, government, educational, and nonprofit organizations who are developing community-based applications. These interviews will help us to identify specific applications related to community outcome objectives (e.g., local job listing, online courses) that will be listed in community surveys so that impacts might be traced back to specific community-based initiatives. For these purposes, four week-long field trips will be made to each county in the first and fourth years of the project.

Progress 09/01/04 to 11/30/08

Outputs
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.

Impacts
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.

Publications

  • 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 01/01/07 to 12/31/07

Outputs
OUTPUTS: Analysis of the first wave data collection from our four counties continued, resulting in the publication reported below and two conference presentations. Data collection for the second wave began in December, including field visits and library interviews in Huron, Zapata, and Zavala Counties and interviews with home users in the latter two counties. Results were disseminated at the CSREES PI meeting held in conjunction with the Rural Sociological Society meetings in Santa Clara, California in August and at the International Communication Association meeting in San Francisco in May. PARTICIPANTS: Principal Investigators: Sharon Strover and Joseph Straubhaar, University of Texas; Jennifer Gregg, University of Louisville. Grad Students: Melissa Lewis and Christina Wirth, Michigan State University; Nobuya Inagaki and Jeremy Spence, University of Texas TARGET AUDIENCES: Target audiences include residents and community leaders in Huron County, Michigan Zapata County and Zavala County, Texas and Pike County, Kentucky that are our study cites. Zapata and Zavala Counties both have significant Hispanic populations. Professional audiences include members of the International Communication Association and the Rural Sociological Society. Our efforts this year focused on professional audiences through two conference presentations and the publication cited above. PROJECT MODIFICATIONS: Mail survey methods proved ineffective in the Texas counties during wave 1 data collection and personal interviews had to be conducted in their place. Personal interview methods will again be used in wave 2.

Impacts
Two changes in knowledge took place, as reflected in the publication below and the conference presentations. In the publication cited below a new model of innovation diffusion was proposed and tested using data from the first wave data collection. Unlike previous research that had explained away urban-rual differences in in broadband penetration in terms of urban-rural demographic differences, the new model showed that factors amenable to interventions involving public information campaigns could explain the difference. In a conference presentation at the International Communication Association meetings two mechanisms linking Internet use to attachment to rural communities were uncovered. Learning how to use the internet to obtain social support was found to increase community attachment. However, a second mechanism was found in which Internet usage decreased attachment to rural communities.

Publications

  • LaRose, R., Gregg, J. L., Strover, S., Straubhaar, J.D., & Carpenter, S. (2007). Closing the rural broadband gap: Promoting adoption of the Internet in rural America. Telecommunications Policy, 31, (6-7): 359-373.


Progress 01/01/06 to 12/31/06

Outputs
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.

Impacts
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.

Publications

  • 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

Outputs
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.

Impacts
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.

Publications

  • 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.


Progress 01/01/04 to 12/31/04

Outputs
Subcontracts for the University of Texas and University of Louisville were completed and finally executed the third week of November. While the subcontracts were in preparation interview protocols for library patrons and organizations were drafted and drafts of the main survey instrument were circulated. Following execution of the subcontracts human subjects approval for the library interview protocols was obtained and field visits to Huron County, Michigan; Pike County, Kentucky; and Zapata and Zavala Counties, Texas were initated. Small groups pretested the draft of the main data collection instrument. The instrument, consisting largely of questions about community satisfaction and social relationships and factors affecting Internet Usage and Adoption, was submitted for approval to Michigan State University's Institutional Review Board. Only preliminary findings from the initial field visits and interviews with library Internet patrons are available at this time. We have found a wide variety of motivations for the use of public Internet access that in some ways run counter to their universal service objectives. In Texas, a number of users were seasonal vacation visitors who migrate to the region to enjoy the warm weather around the holidays. In Michigan, the library terminals were lightly used overall. We found examples of people using library terminals to seek employment information that would help them migrate from the county, giving up home Internet connections in favor of library attendance, and using library computers to open virus-ridden email. These are very preliminary findings, but anecdotally they raise questions about the current policies that stress public access locations as a means of furthering universal broadband service objectives.

Impacts
The first issue we are examining is why broadband Internet adoption in rural areas lags that in urban areas, even where broadband access is available. Secondly, what impact will broadband adoption have on the well-being of rural communities and their residents, as measured by life satisfaction and participation in community and employment activities? The answers to these questions will provide rural broadband providers, rural development experts, and policy makers with information about optimal ways to improve rural life through investments in broadband Internet technologies.

Publications

  • No publications reported this period