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Reflections, Visions, and Challenges: Discussions of the 20th Anniversary of the James H. and Mary B. Quello Center

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Thursday, April 19th, 2018

Reflections, Visions, and Challenges: Discussions of the 20thAnniversary of the James H. and Mary B. Quello Center

On 12 April 2018, the Quello Center celebrated the 20thAnniversary of its founding with an open house at the Center and forum that engaged friends and associates of the Center in reflecting on its past and future with short presentations on key challenges on the road ahead.

The day was similar to many academic events in showcasing informative presentations about the issues of policy and regulation in the digital age, but unusual in creating a stronger sense of responsibility to ensure the realization and continuation of James Quello’s dream for his Center. It is difficult to convey the personal stories and presentations that led to such a powerful outcome of this event, but the following points of summary and conclusion seek to capture key aspects of each session and the day as a whole.

The Welcome and Introduction

The Director of the Quello Center, Professor Bill Dutton, welcomed everyone to the forum, outlining the plan for the day. Dutton noted the context that Mark Zuckerberg provided over the two previous days of testimony to the U.S. Congress about the issues facing Facebook. The Facebook fiasco illustrated so well the degree that there is an absence of clear and appropriate policy and regulatory approaches to the issues facing the Internet, social media and related media, information, and communication technologies of the digital age. The mission of the Quello Center – to stimulate and inform policy and regulation for the digital age – is clearly of value in the present and foreseeable context. The public and politicians are asking for something to be done to protect privacy and other key values, but we lack appropriate models for accomplishing their aims.

Bill Dutton introduced the Chair of the Quello Center’s Advisory Board, Brian Fontes, who is the CEO of the National Emergency Number Association since 2008. Fontes was on Commissioner Quello’s staff at the FCC well before the Center was established and has served as the Chair of its Advisory Board since its inception. He spoke of the commitment and personality of Jim Quello, and conveyed the early steps in establishing the Center. An initial contribution from John Kluge was discussed as a contribution to creating a Chair at MSU in honor of Jim and Mary Quello. It was discussion of the chair with MSU Dean James Spaniolo and others that led to the larger idea of a Chair associated with a Center in their name. Fontes ended by thanking everyone for joining the forum, and introduced Susan Quello, the granddaughter of Jim and Mary.

Susan Quello, herself a researcher at the Scripps Institute in La Jolla, California, conveyed the loyalty and love of MSU that was held by her grandparents, who met while students at MSU. She was able to communicate the depth of their commitment to the university, and the pride they felt in the establishment of the Center in their names for perpetuity. She reminded the attendees of Jim Quello’s compulsive drive to succeed and that her grandfather lived and breathed for broadcasting and broadcasting regulation. Susan Quello concluded with a definition of success to describe her grandfather, “when you wake up every morning, however old or young, and bound out of bed because there is something out there that you love to do. Something that you believe in, that you’re good at. Something bigger than you are, and you can hardly wait to get out and begin today.”

Quello Center 20th Anniversary Talks: Part 1 from Quello Center on Vimeo.

Reflections on James H. Quello and the Center

Professor Bibi Reisdorf, Assistant Director of the Quello Center, and Assistant Professor in the Department of Media and Information, introduced the speakers for this first session, and moderated the discussion. She organized the discussion around a set of questions about how each first met James Quello, special moments and memories, how the idea for a research Center in his name first began, and events or other notable things that stood out to the panelists throughout the 20-year history of the Center.

Richard E. Wiley, Chairman and Co-founder of the Washington, DC law firm of Wiley Rein LLP, was on the big screen, teleconferencing from DC. Wiley described Jim Quello as being a practical person with unusually strong common sense. He emphasized the commitment of Quello to supporting scholarly research but also to moving beyond research for its own sake to contributing to its practical application, such as in shaping policy and practice. He applauded the Center for its work in realizing this vision on behalf of James and Mary Quello.

Karole White, the President and CEO of the Michigan Association of Broadcasters (MAB), communicated a personal sense of the man and his colorful language and character. She told a touching story of how he was always supportive of her to the point that during his very last days he called to support her, saying how she was so gifted with people that she should be a politician. All were amazed to learn of how so much of his last days were spent in building up his friends, associates, and family.

The Founding Director of the Quello Center, and Quello Professor Emeritus Professor Steve Wildman, spoke of how he knew of James Quello by reputation long before he met him. Wildman was amazed by Quello’s network of friends and associates in the FCC, government and industry, and the force of his drive and personality – even exhibited in his driving his many awards and plaques all the way from Washington, DC to East Lansing in the back of his car.

The session was rounded off by additional memories and responses from Brian Fontes and Susan Quello, who both recalled James Quello’s vision for the Center as an independent and cutting edge research center that would not only result in high quality research, but also inform policy in media, communication, and information.

Visions of the Next Decade(s)

Professor Laleah Fernandez, a post-doctoral researcher and fellow at the Quello Center, introduced and moderated the second session, focusing on ways forward for research and outreach of the Center.

Dean of the College of Communication Arts and Sciences, Prabu David, emphasized some of the strategic directions of the College. The Dean described how the Quello Center’s work fits into major initiatives, such as its interest in policy and its initiative with WKAR to create an innovation lab for next generation public broadcasting.

Professor Natascha Just of the Department of Media and Information spoke of some of the key intellectual challenges in moving forward, such as in reconceptualizing key issues and conceptualizations for the digital age. Just described how the Center is well poised to help shape and redefine the conversation surrounding media and information policy research.

Professor Johannes Bauer, Chair of the Department of Media and Information, conveyed his vision of the Center. Bauer said he sees the Center becoming a hub for the College and the University – a place to connect academics across the university, but also to connect academics with people in the policy community from the local to global arena on such issues as freedom of expression, ownership, and communication policy generally.

Challenges

Two presentations followed the panels. The first focused locally, on networking Detroit, and the second on the future of broadcasting, with implications for local developments at WKAR.

Networking Detroit

Marc Hudson, the Co-founder and CEO of Rocket Fiber, described his transition from a student in telecommunications at MSU’s College of Communication Arts and Sciences. This background, he explained, led to a job at Quicken Loans, which fostered his idea of building a fiber optic network in Detroit. That fiber network, known as Rocket Fiber, was first intended to link the many acquisitions of Dan Gilbert, the founder of Quicken Loans and Rock Ventures. Now the CEO of Rocket Fiber, Hudson spoke about the early years of Rocket Fiber and their plans for the future. He also described his current roles in the FCC’s Broadband Deployment Advisory Group of the FCC, and Michigan Consortium for Advanced Networks. Rocket Fiber supported Quello Center research in 2018 that examined the nature of the Detroit digital divide.

Quello 20th Anniversary Part 2 from Quello Center on Vimeo.

Moving to the Next Generation of Broadcasting

Vincent Curren, a Principal in Breakthrough Public Media Consulting, then spoke about the history and future of broadcasting, focusing on the development and implementation of the new broadcasting standard ATSC 3.0, which will foster Internet Protocol (IP) broadcasting. Curren noted that the development of ATSC 3.0 is currently focused on commercial use. He emphasized the role that Quello could play in exploring public service capabilities in the development of ATSC 3.0 by partnering with WKAR.

Quello 20th Anniversary Part 3 from Quello Center on Vimeo.

Concluding Discussion of Reflections, Visions, and Challenges

Bill Dutton moderated the final panel that raised some concluding points of summary and discussion for the day.

Roderick (Rick) Coy, with the law firm of Clark Hill, led off with an overview of the decades since the introduction of the Quello Center 20 years ago, tracing change in the technical and policy landscape over the years. Coy referred to the Quello Center as a “God send” when it entered the scene in 1998. He recalled how the media landscape was changing dramatically at the time, and increasing complexities surrounding telecommunication law and regulation lacked objective research to help inform decision makers and professionals.

Brian Fontes returned to a discussion of the many personal qualities of James Quello and his visions for the Center. He reminded attendees of Quello’s optimism and excitement about the potential of information and communication innovations. Fontes stressed how Quello was most interested in and concerned about the impact of innovation on both business and communities served. He applauded the Quello Center for its focus on industry and community impact projects and research.

Jim and Mary Quello’s granddaughter, Susan Quello, concluded by thanking the participants, and noting how honored and pleased her grandfather would be – in fact the might well be smiling on the proceedings. She reiterated the qualities and strengths of her grandfather, including his ability to bridge partisan divides and make decisions based on his moral compass. Susan Quello thanked the Center for taking care of Jim Quello’s legacy through passion driven research.

Bill Dutton thanked everyone, particularly Susan Quello, for making this anniversary so memorable, and instilling a sense of responsibility to ensure that the Center maintains and enhances its mission of stimulating and informing debate over the policy, regulatory and management issues of the digital age in ways that have practical relevance for the industry and society as a whole.

Bill Dutton, Laleah Fernandez, and Bibi Reisdorf

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Bill Dutton Visiting Lisbon for Talks and a Panel on Dating Through a Screen

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Monday, April 2nd, 2018

Bill Dutton will be traveling to Lisbon, Portugal, for a couple of events on 9 April 2018. Before lunch, he will present his work on the role of search and social media in shaping public opinion. This will be at the Palace Foz on the 9th of April for a couple of dozen invitees from the media companies and regulators. The work he will discuss is based on his research in seven nations, reported here: http://quello.msu.edu/research/the-part-played-by-search-in-shaping-political-opinion-the-quello-search-project/ along with related work on fake news.

That evening, he will be speaking to faculty and students of ISCTE – Instituto Universitário de Lisboa, abbreviated ISCTE-IUL, on the implications of social media as part of a panel on ‘Dating Through a Screen: New Technologies and Old Challenges’. http://www.cies.iscte-iul.pt/index.jsp Bill did work with Bernie Hogan and others around online dating, and related work on OxIS with respect to the implications of social media with Corinna di Gennaro and others.*

* di Gennaro, C., and Dutton, W. H. (2007), ‘Reconfiguring Friendships: Social Relationships and the Internet’, Information Communication and Society, 10 (5): 591-618.

Hogan, B., Li, N., and Dutton, W. H. (2011), A Global Shift in the Social Relationships of Networked Individuals: Meeting and Dating Online Comes of Age. (February 14, 2011). SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1763884 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.1763884


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Dutton Visits Australia’s Wollongong University

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Sunday, April 1st, 2018

Bill Dutton, Director of the Quello Center, has returned from a short visit to University of Wollongong Australia, which is located south of Sydney. He was invited by the School of Computing and Information Technology to contribute to a lecture series supported by a grant from the One Asia Foundation. He spoke on March 26th to a group of students and faculty about his concept of The Fifth Estate, and his research with colleagues on the role of search and social media in shaping public opinion, which challenges some of the conventional wisdom about filter bubbles and echo chambers.

His guest lecture was hosted by Professor Will Tibben, a colleague he had worked with at the Oxford Internet Institute on collective intelligence, and Dr Holly Tootell, as Senior Lecturer. Holly and Will both work in part through the Center for Persuasive Technology and Society at the university, which focuses on the development and assessment of information technologies applied in such areas as healthcare and ICT for development

Will Tibben and Holly Tootell, Wollongong

. The University of Wollongong is a top university in its region of Australia, and emerging among the top tier of research universities nationally.

While Wollongong was anchored historically around a major steel mill, its costal location and natural resources have helped it become more anchored in tourism, with the university attracting an international range of students on the basis of its amenities as well as the strength of its faculty. It was a long trip, but a great opportunity to catch up with colleagues and bring some of the research of the Quello Center to Australia. 

A Wollongong Beach

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Professor Bibi Reisdorf Invited to Contribute to the Michigan Consortium for Advanced Networks

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Sunday, April 1st, 2018

Governor Snyder recently announced the formation of the Michigan Consortium of Advanced Networks. This consortium is designed to ‘identify gaps in broadband service coverage and capacity, current efforts underway to address connectivity issues, and key strategies and recommendations for the State of Michigan and the private sector to pursue to achieve enhanced connectivity’. The Consortium is housed within the Executive Office and serves in an advisory capacity to the Governor. It is charged with providing a roadmap for statewide access and adoption by August 1, 2018.

The Quello Center’s Professor Bibi Reisdorf has been invited to join a subgroup titled Access and Adoption Subgroup which will work to assist the Consortium in determining long term recommendations to address access and adoption issues statewide. This subgroup will complement others in order to assist the Consortium in writing its report.

Bibi recently presented at a forum on broadband divides, organized by MSU’s Institute for Public Policy and Social Research (IPPSR) demonstrating the expertise and research base that will bring added value to this subgroup and the Consortium as a whole.

Professor Bibi Reisdorf

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MSU’s Crisis Forum: Notes on a Discussion at the Quello Center

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Tuesday, February 13th, 2018

MSU’s Crisis Forum: Raising Questions

Notes on the Forum of 9 February 2018

The Quello Center hosted a one-hour ‘conversation about communication and the abuse scandal’ on 9 February. A small group of colleagues shared their views on communication issues related to the sex abuse scandal as it continues to unfold at MSU. The discussion was held in the Quello Center Meeting Room under The Chatham House Rule, so that no quotes would be attributed to any participant. It was a lively discussion of sensitive topics that raised many questions. The key theme arising from the discussion was around ‘listening’.

First, it was argued by colleagues thinking hard about this issue that the most positive approach we can take to communication with not only external audiences, but also with those inside the university, is to listen, rather than focus on offering our opinions or answers. We don’t need to be a spokesperson for the University or the College. In fact, listening might well be the most valuable approach, particularly in these early days, when we are all still learning what happened. This can help us from being defensive and help demonstrate that we share many of the concerns and questions raised by others. Two days after our discussion, this theme featured in an editorial by the Lansing State Journal, entitled ‘move MSU forward by listening’ (11 Feb 2018).

Secondly, in discussing what we need to convey to all of our audiences, there was general consensus on one simple but powerful message conveyed by one of our group: “We all need to listen to women and girls.” Due process requires all parties to be heard and taken seriously when there are claims of sexual abuse.

“We all need to listen to women and girls.”

This message resonated more or less with all on several fronts. First, it is genuinely true, and applicable to all the actors involved with this disaster, from all the institutions to all the individuals associated with the victims and survivors. It is not simply a prescription for MSU. Also, it is a clear and simple message that avoids some of the ambiguities surrounding more abstract notions of the larger systemic or structural issues. There might well be serious structural problems, but at least one participant argued that such general points seem less likely to translate into concrete behavioral norms – certainly at the individual level – than the concrete prescription that we listen to women and girls.

Teal Ribbons Tied to MSU

The disaster around Larry Nassar has metastasized into other issue areas, such as the general safety of women at MSU and on other college campuses, and the governance of the university, as two examples. Since it is increasingly impossible to deal with specific issues in this developing mix of related issues, it may be that listening is one of the key approaches that are relevant to all of these assorted issues.

One participant argued that this should be put more broadly, such as applying to the ‘powerless’ and not only women and girls, such as: “We need to listen and empower the powerless.” Another argued that listening is more in the control of all of us, as opposed to empowering individuals and groups, which is a more ambitious and system-centric problem.

Another participant expressed concern that mandatory reporting rules could eliminate thoughtful, supportive conversations about discrimination and harassment. Instead, conversations might be avoided or immediately escalated to a formal investigation. There is no room for actual conversation of concerning or worrisome dynamics. Yet mandatory reporting rules could have the unintended consequence of undermining discussion of sensitive topics or questions, by leading to the response: “If you disclose to me a personal experience of sexual violence or sexual harassment, then I am required to notify ___”.

Other messages found resonance with many in the room, including the simple acknowledgement that “we screwed up and we are dedicated to fixing it.” While we debated the appropriateness of any given message, we also recognized the degree that all faculty and students will be part of the conversation, and it will be exceedingly difficult to orchestrate any given message. Nevertheless, it seemed to all that whatever the message, the College needs to have an authentic voice while also enabling students and faculty to join the conversation without being silenced by fears of saying the wrong thing, or hurting someone’s feelings.

A number of other questions were raised in the discussion, including the following:

A week ago, when this conversation was scheduled, there seemed to be a need for more communication about this disaster. Since that time there has been a virtual spasm of setting up meetings, conversations, teach-ins, free speech events, and more. This is good. However, we want to avoid unnecessary duplication of efforts that are rapidly evolving across the university.

At the same time, we need to ensure that the conversation continues long after this initial flood of reactions fades, which it might well do over time. With that in mind, the Quello Center agreed to revisit this conversation in a couple of months to discuss whether there were some issues or activities not being adequately addressed. Given the many inquiries and reviews of this disaster, most only getting underway, there is a need for sustained attention over the coming years. How can we help ensure we continue to listen and learn as the lessons unfold from a predictably long, arduous, but necessary review process?

Bill Dutton[*]

Quello Center

[*] Compiled by Bill on behalf of all the participants in this discussion, which included Prabu David, David Ewoldsen, Carrie Heeter, Meredith Jagutis, Bianca Reisdorf, Nancy Rhodes, and Nicole Szymczak along with Bill Dutton.

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Susan Quello Endorses the Launch of the James H. Quello Archive

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Monday, January 15th, 2018

Susan Quello, granddaughter of James H. and Mary B. Quello, provides her perspective on the launch of the James H. Quello Digital Archive. Susan, now at The Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, California, beautifully captures the significance of MSU and higher education to her grandparents, and underscores the value of the archive to preserving James Quello’s contributions to the FCC and communication policy.

Susan Quello from Quello Center on Vimeo.

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New Media Addiction by A. Michael Noll

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Sunday, January 14th, 2018

NEW MEDIA ADDICTION

A. Michael Noll

January 13, 2018

© Copyright 2019 AMN

Concern is being expressed about the addictive use of smartphones. It has even been suggested that software be installed to limit use of smartphones, particularly use by young people.

All the supposed harm is similar to what was said about radio and also about television during their early years. There was discussion decades ago about the need to restrict use. I am not old enough to remember the telegraph, but I can guess that similar predictions of doom from overuse were also made. And what of all the time wasted reading newspapers, along with all the controversial ideas that were disbursed.

It seems normal that there is an over-fascination with any new medium, such as a smartphone. And then with time, usage fades and other more traditional forms of communication and entertainment return. The novelty and social status of the new wears off.

A. Michael Noll

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University Research: A Skeptical Perspective by A. Michael Noll

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Sunday, January 14th, 2018

UNIVERSITY RESEARCH: A SKEPTICAL PERSPECTIVE

A. Michael Noll

January 13, 2018

© Copyright 2017 AMN

University research has skeptically made little contribution to the striking advances in communications technology of the last 50 or so years. This is hardly surprising, since most of the advances came from R&D at industrial facilities. The skeptical perspective in this piece is based on my early experience at an industrial research laboratory, in government, and later at a university. My conclusion is that university research is essential mostly for the education and training of students, who then graduate and conduct meaningful research for industry.

Ivory Tower sciblog.co.nz

One important example of technological innovation in the communication area is communication satellites. But they were not the result of university research. Bell Labs pioneered satellite communications over a half century ago. In fact, science fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke, as early as 1945, first proposed communication satellites. The Soviets (Sputnik in 1957) developed the first satellite. Then Bell Telephone Laboratories (Echo in 1960 and Telstar in 1962) developed early communication satellites — none of this was university research.

Another technological innovation is the Internet. Was it solely the result of university research? The precursor of today’s Internet was the Arpanet, which utilized packet switching to avoid then costly data service. The Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA) of the Federal defense department funded the development of the Arpanet, which was the brainchild of Dr. Larry Roberts, who directed the project at ARPA. Much of the actual development work was done at Bolt, Beranek, and Newman (BBN). Although university people were involved, the Arpanet was not solely the result of university research.

I am not familiar with chemical research and physics, and thus do not know how much practical research has occurred at university facilities. My expertise is in electrical engineering and telecommunications technology. Interesting university research has been done in astrophysics, but little relevance has occurred from this research – it deals with such topics as black holes and distances measured in millions on light years. Decades ago, John McCarthy at his laboratory at Stanford University, and the students he educated did exciting research in artificial intelligence and robotics.

The broader question is what is the purpose and mission of universities, and what is the role of university research? This can become the domain of self-serving opinion. It is a controversial topic with “muddy waters” on its importance depending on personal opinions and perspectives.

Sitting here at my desk with the computer on which I am writing this article, I think of the technology around me. The graphical interface on the computer was invented at the Xerox Palo Alto Research Center (PARC); the mouse was invented at the Stanford Research Institute; researchers at Bell Telephone Laboratories invented the Unix operating system. None of this was university research. Many innovations are the result of discoveries by many researchers at different organizations – credit frequently should be more collectively attributed.

The Federal government through a peer-review process sponsors much university research. The process in seeking support for peer-reviewed research is lengthy and elaborate. It sometimes appears that more thought and effort goes into writing the proposal than the actual conduct of the research. The peer review process assures that the research will be mostly mainstream.

Decades ago, when I worked in Washington and collaborated with the Office of Management and Budget, I wondered whether university research funded by the National Science Foundation was a form of welfare for academics. It was also a reason for being released from teaching a course or two — teaching is real work.

I wonder whether it would be simpler and would result in more innovative groundbreaking research if the university simply supported the research from its endowment and own funds. But these funds would need to be distributed evenly and might not be sufficient to support current levels of research. However, avoiding proposal writing might add efficiency.

University research frequently is more theoretical, not very practical, and long term. It usually is not the kind of proprietary research that leads to breakthroughs and pioneering innovations with practical industrial application. The mission of university research frequently is “new knowledge for its own sake,” as contrasted with industrial research that supports the mission of the industrial firm. It is not the mission of the university to make new products and provide new services.

The best research supports the mission of the sponsoring organization. The mission of a university is education – not providing telecommunication service, space craft, refrigerators, and so forth. Indeed, the major mission of the university should be education. If doctoral students are to be educated and trained, then they need the opportunity to perform some form of research. After they graduate, these doctorial students then frequently go to work at industry performing practical and relevant work. The career path for doctoral students that seems to be most applauded by the faculty is to graduate and work at another university, where their doctoral students then apply to yet another graduate program – not for industry or on practical problems. “Practical” and “relevant” seem to be characterizations to be avoided at many universities.

Research usually tackled practical problems in support of a real-world mission of the sponsor. A good way for a university to be involved in such research is through a separate for-profit research unit. The researchers would not teach nor be tenured – they would be employees. Patents would be obtained, along with other intellectual property. Students and faculty could also work part-time at the research facility. The management of the research unit would evaluate the research. An issue with university research is that the departmental administration does not evaluate it and instead relies on outside peer review.

The “product” of universities is its graduates. Research universities educate and train doctoral students. As graduates these newly minted doctorates go to work in industry performing propriety industrial research and devolvement. The results of this R&D makes their way back to the university, affecting and refining the topics of research done by faculty and current doctoral students. This is a tight loop.

I have taken a skeptical and controversial tone in this piece. But in the end, what should matter is meaningful research that solves real problems or leads to new knowledge and innovations — not where it is performed. Research should make our lives better through new products and services.

A. Michael Noll

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The New Urban Myths of Detroit Internet Use

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Friday, January 5th, 2018

Recently we posted a blog that outlined three key findings in our Detroit Digital Divide Project. These findings focused on issues of Internet connectivity, use, and interest among Detroit residents. We argued that the findings of our research run counter to a number of perceptions about Internet digital divides in Detroit, and to a degree that they might be better understood as myths. However, just the recognition of misguided assumptions is not enough. As we continue to analyze the data further, and refine the patterns emerging, the Quello research team has begun to examine what can be done to address these divides in light of our findings.

Below we briefly review these myths before moving to an outline of three possible steps forward.

Myth #1: Detroiters are under-connected
When asked if they have home Internet access, about 78 percent of respondents in our three examined neighborhoods said they do have home access, yet only about 60 percent report having a contract with an ISP. However, almost our whole sample identified themselves as using the Internet in some form. This suggests that Detroiters are finding their way online, but they have to be innovative in order to connect. The problem is that unstable, unreliable or mobile-only connections are simply not good enough.

Myth #2: Detroiters go online primarily for entertainment
Despite claims that Detroiters use the Internet primarily for entertainment purposes, our study found that entertainment and leisure activities are decidedly less central than information seeking and communication activities. In other words, far fewer people are streaming music or watching videos online than the number of people who are emailing, getting news, or health information. For example, just over 50 percent say they go online to watch videos while about 85 percent go online to email.

Myth #3: Detroiters are not interested in home Internet access
We did not find evidence to support the notion that Detroit residents avoid the Internet because of a lack of interest. First, most Detroiters are online. But often, they are limited to using a mobile device to access the Internet. Second, a majority of those who do not have an ISP at home say they would like home access. Third, among those who do not have home access most have access at work or some other public space, and the lack of home access most often comes down to price, not interest. For example, focus group participants who expressed ambivalence on the subject of home access cited barriers such as costs, a loss of family time, and duplication of services as some of the reasons for their “lack of interest”. In other words, among those who say they are not interested in home access are those who have Internet access elsewhere.

Next Steps

A deeper exploration of these three myths requires a discussion of what can and should be done to dispel such misconceptions. For those who care about Detroit and issues of the digital divide, the following guidelines could serve as a starting point for setting the record straight.

To learn more about this research, please visit our Project Page.

 

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Myths of Detroit Internet Use

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Thursday, December 21st, 2017

The Quello Center recently completed a study focused on Internet use in Detroit, Michigan. The findings may surprise anyone who believes that Detroiters are under-connected, go online primarily for entertainment or are uninterested in the Internet.

The study surveyed three Detroit neighborhoods, Cody-Rouge, Milwaukee Junction and 7/8 Mile and Woodward. Focus groups were also conducted with community stakeholders, adult residents and youth.  The results are based on a sample of 525 Detroit residents who responded to our telephone survey and nearly 30 residents who participated in focus groups.

Myth #1: Detroiters are under-connected

Our study found that even among those who do not have home access, Detroiters overwhelming find a way to get online. Like other studies, our study found that only about 60 percent of Detroit households have a contract with an Internet Service Provider in their home, however, that statistic alone is misleading. When asked if they have home Internet access, about 78 percent say yes. This suggests that most find a way to access the Internet at home with or without an ISP. Even more people are online when they are traversing around the city.

Myth #2: Detroiters go online primarily for entertainment

Once online, Detroiters are doing work or involved in information seeking tasks – dispelling another misperception of Internet use in Detroit. Across all of our focus groups participants report using the Internet “every day and everywhere.” When asked what they do online, the number one activity reported in the survey was checking email, followed by getting information on local events, reading the news and searching for health information. Comparatively the least reported activities included getting information on sports, streaming videos and posting photos. In other words, Detroiters use the Internet for a variety of purposes, the least of which is entertainment.

 

Myth #3: Detroiters are not interested in home Internet access

Among the participants in this study, Detroiters say they are very well aware of the benefits of Internet access. Most use the Internet regularly. Most have very positive attitudes toward the Internet, especially when compared to any stated fears. While most are regularly online and use the Internet at home, 60 percent of those who do not have home access say they would like it.

Still, access gaps and digital divides remain. These gaps and divides are more subtle than simply using or accessing the Internet. These gaps and divides manifest in the form of dependence on mobile phones, and the limitations of mobile devices when compared to, or used in combination with, home devices like desktops and laptops. Not all content is mobile friendly. Job and scholarship applications cannot be completed on mobile phones. Homework and work related spreadsheets and documents are limited, difficult or impossible to complete on a mobile phone. Creativity is stifled by the limitations of a mobile phone. In order to address these gaps, Detroiters need to recognize these limitation, and have access to home devices, particularly laptops and software to sustain work, homework and creative endeavors.

It is also worth noting that those who do have home access are paying a disproportionate amount of their income for an ISP. For example, in our survey the average household is paying $50 a month. At the same time, the average household income in Detroit is $26,000 a year, and 75 percent of our sample say their household income is average or below average (nearly 50 percent of the sample say their household makes below or far below $26,000 a year).  To put this in perspective, focus group participants admitted to delaying, avoiding or canceling other important services and necessities in order to continue to pay for home Internet or cell phone bills to use the Internet. Parents say they do it for their children. Working adults say they do it to stay competitive. Those seeking employment say they do it search for jobs and to receive calls if an opportunity becomes available. In other words, Detroiters are very well aware of the value of accessing the Internet and most are doing whatever it takes get online.

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