Digital Divide Index measures economic disparities across Indiana

The lack of high-speed internet access in Indiana’s rural areas means limited access to educational and employment opportunities. Robert Gallardo, a community regional economics specialist at Purdue University, wants to fix that.

Sixteen percent of Hoosiers live without broadband internet access, down 2% since 2017, according to the advocacy website, BroadbandNow. The Southeastern Indiana Regional Planing Commission (SIRPC) 2019 “taste of Broadband” report revealed more than 90 percent of residents in Franklin and Switzerland counties do not use 25 Mbps and Ohio County has the highest property info households without computing devices at 22.3 percent.

This is partly due to the work of Gallardo, including how he and a team of researchers created the Digital Divide Index (DDI) to quantify these disparities. Ranging from 0 to 100, with 100 indicating the largest digital divide, the DDI quartiles showed the highest disparities among west, south, and southwest counties, according to the Digital Divide in Indiana report published by Gallardo and other researchers. Meanwhile, the smallest divides were located in the northwest and central counties.

Composed of scores measuring the infrastructure and adoption of broadband and the socioeconomic characteristics that effect technology adoption, the DDI can differnetiate 25/3 access and internet sped the former category and educational level, poverty rate, and elderly or disabled population in the latter.

The report found greater decreases in working age population of counties with the highest DDI when compared with the state and national averages over the course of 2010 to 2015. These counties also experienced smaller increases in the number of jobs and estbalishments.

As the 25th most connected state, according to BroadbandNow, there are 237 internet providers in Indiana. Some 757,000 people in Indiana do not have access to a 25 Mpbs wired connection. Bridging the digital divide means using the DDI statistic to understand disparities in the state, Gallardo says.

That is a problem holding the state back, Gallardo says. Providing broadband internet access to all ares of Indiana, he says, woods provide individual with equal access to a global economy. It also would give communities the ability to communicate and work with more commercial and residential developers throughout the entire state. It would improve the quality of life for the residents affected and, as technology advances, give everyone equal access to opportunities.

Understanding how internet access affects the nation as a whole means defining the nature of internet speeds. I n2015, the Federal Communications Commission rose the minimum of what qualifies as broadband service. The agency voted to raise the download speed threshold from 4 megabits per second (Mbps) to 25 Mbps and upload speed from 1-3 Mbps. The nation recognizes this “25/3” speed as broadband speed.

Gallardo said over the past few years, researchers have gained access to granular data – data that can be divided and analyzed for the most basic feathers. He has described how the broadband infrastructure in Indiana continues to improve. He has stressed the importance of putting data in context and coming up with ways to cross-check and validate what the data means.

Gallardo said he hopes the work can create more consistent and widespread resources as the SIRPC report found 45% of individuals did not have access to internet for five or more days due to unpaid bills, broken devices, or similar reasons due to lack of resources.

“We’re trying to translate that data where it can be used for meaningful discussions,” Gallardo said. “This report is crunch gin all these numbers just so that you and I in the region can say, ‘OK, what can we do about it?’”

In 2014, 83 percent of housing units in Indiana had access to the 25/3 broadband standard. That percentage is now at 90.4 percent, but Gallardo warned there are statistical shortcomings in the ways these data are collected such that they have not been appropriately validated.

“The problem with that dataset is that it’s user-provided,” Gallardo said, “not checked by a federal agency.”

Susan Craig, executive director of the Southeastern Indiana Regional Planning Commission, said she’s been working with Gallardo since last Fall in serving nine rural counties in Southeastern Indiana.

“There were a lot of conversations on the local level before it was finalized to go with the studies,” Craig said about Gallardo’s research of the socioeconomic disparities across Indiana.

Gallardo also said the data may represent what the speeds re advertised as rather than what they actually are.

Still, the project involves legal and financial competence through public-private partnerships. These large-scale processes depend upon these complex factors interfacing with one another. Solving Indiana’s broadband issues means creating a discussion between policymakers and the public as well, Gallardo says.

Scott Rudd, director of broadband opportunities fro Indiana, works with Gallardo on attracting broadband providers to various counties. With help from the Indiana Lt. Gov Suzanne Crouch, Rudd held the 2018 Broadband Summit, “Connecting Hoosier Communities” last October with one of the goals to improve the dialogue between different groups of people such as stakeholders across the state.

Gallardo said,” There is no one-size fits-all model when deploying or upgrading broadband infrastructure.”

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