Stirring the Pot: the “un-connected” struggle more as gap widens

As originally posted in the Blandin on Broadband blog

Since the New Year, Community Technology Advisors has been working with the ten new Blandin Broadband Communities. We are helping them move from Steering Team formation to Vision creation and the resulting project development.   Participation has been fantastic with strong cross-sector attendance and leadership. Mayors, school superintendents, librarians, community education, chambers of commerce, citizen activists have brought their enthusiasm to the table. There is no shortage of project ideas. While some groan at the idea of a three-hour meeting, we have found the “after-meeting meetings” to be robust. We have already seen promise of problem solving, new resources and collaboration.

This is our third round of MIRC/BBC communities. More than ever, the gap between those who are connected at speeds that meet the state broadband goal or higher and those who lack anything but slow DSL (1 – 3 Mb), cellular or satellite is growing larger – in both absolute bandwidth speeds and in perception of capability. The un-connected struggle to do homework, work from home and all of the other common practice applications that the connected think are so easy. As most of our “communities” are counties or even larger, large areas of rural countryside fit into the unserved and underserved broadband category.   Local leaders are fierce in their determination to solve this puzzle, but are challenged to see the path forward. The recent DEED grant awards are encouraging, but sobering. The path towards a positive partnership and affordable finance alternative seems steep and rocky.

One of the strengths of the Blandin Broadband Communities program is that it provides a platform for communities to build knowledge and momentum on the infrastructure challenge while still driving adoption and use as the program’s main goal. This dual path requires strong understanding within community leadership that infrastructure initiatives may take considerable time to come to fruition. In the meantime, they need to continue to build on their existing infrastructure, institutional and people assets to improve their tech vitality. These ten communities have started down this path. It is our privilege to guide them as they make connections, learn new things, set priorities, create teams and make good things happen in the places that they call home.