By Corian Zacher
Located in Northwest Missouri, Turney is a village with a population of just over 100. Like many similarly situated communities, it is on the edge of several networks, yet many residents do not have broadband access.
A local Internet service provider partnered with researchers to extend service from their nearby fiber network through wireless technology installed on a grain elevator, the tallest point in Turney. Javier Valentín-Sívico, Casey Canfield, Sarah A. Low, and Christel Gollnick captured their findings in a report: Evaluating the impact of broadband access and internet use in a small underserved rural community.
Researchers captured residents’ sentiments before and after offering service, and observed several control communities. The surveys allowed researchers to collect both qualitative and quantitative information about the wireless network’s impact on residents’ overall well-being.
Collecting both types of data helped researchers understand that the short-term impacts were better captured using qualitative data—which included stories about how access impacted residents’ quality of life—than quantitative metrics, which are traditionally used to evaluate broadband policy impacts. The qualitative data revealed what quantitative data alone could not.
While the study found that increased wireless access did not change residents’ Internet use, the qualitative data show an increase in quality of life. In particular, researchers noted “reduced frustration due to the ability to use multiple devices at once.”
Limitations in wireless technology also impacted residents who participated in the study. Previous negative experiences with wireless service made many residents hesitant to participate. In some areas, the wireless technology could not provide reliable service, and one household dropped out of the study when frustrated by unreliable connectivity. Households close to the town’s center where the grain elevator is located were highly satisfied with the service quality.
As with all technology, wireless faces its own limitations and may not be the right choice for every resident or every community. However, it can bring important benefits when few alternatives are available due to price, geography, or length of wireline deployment.