Stirring the Pot: February 2014

As originally posted in Blandin eNews

Minnesota’s winters increase the potential value to be tapped from broadband. Imagine realizing the full advantage of broadband with our recent spate of cold weather school closings and the painfully slow snowy commutes to work. Stress would be reduced, time would be recaptured and cars would escape the auto body shop.

I read last week that one metro private high school, with a student body that is 100% connected with laptops and Internet, assigned students homework while the school was closed. With a little bit of planning and preparation, that at-home school experience could be escalated to include YouTube lectures, Google chat small group discussions and online quizzes and writing exercises. Sports coaches could even lead teams on conditioning drills and chalkboard sessions. This scenario is possible with a 100% connected student body. While the students might rather be at Starbucks or the mall, parents might be glad to know that their kids are busy and supervised. Extra smart kids might even be able to pull off their schoolwork at some of these fun alternative locations.

In the workplace, companies could increase their preparedness to support telework. At the recent DEED Economic Competitiveness Conference, Thomson Reuters Executive Rick King talked about the importance of broadband for disaster recovery operations. It seems like our snow clogged freeways fit the definition of a disaster. If at-home snow days were encouraged, businesses might even gain some productivity. Workers could be at their home computers working rather than staring at taillights for several hours each way. Email, conference calls, videoconferencing and other tools could be easily used to make this happen. And when a real disaster strikes, workers will be more comfortable and the IT department more prepared for large scale teleworking. While some of this is happening, it is obviously not enough.

In the metro area and in parts of greater Minnesota, the provider networks are generally up to the task to use these alternative school and work strategies. In the 25% of the state that does not meet state goals, residents may need to hit the road in dangerous conditions. For those who are limited by broadband data plans that charge by the Gigabyte or have usage caps, or those that have broadband services affected by heavy snowfall or high latency, their ability to fully participate in telework may be limited. Unfortunately, they are generally the same people who would have the farthest to travel to work or school or library. For those people with lower incomes, they may lack both a home computer and a broadband connection. They may also have unreliable cars, day care issues with kids at home from school, and more tenuous work situations. It seems that telework would be especially valuable to them.

When people ask, “What’s the value of broadband?” ask them to think about the lost school days, lost hours in bumper to bumper traffic or the cost of a tow out of the ditch. Affordability and ROI considerations would seem to melt away. As will this snow…someday.


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