Using your network as an economic development tool is a Motherhood and Apple Pie Story about how it is possible to do well by doing good. Community vitality is the public purpose at the heart of the work of building networks. Partnering with communities to create markets for broadband-enabled services is good for your business – but it’s also good for the communities you serve.
Win, win, win.
At Blandin Foundation we have been working to help rural communities bring home the full benefit of broadband networks for nearly ten years now. Our mission is to strengthen rural communities in Minnesota and we are working in this broadband space because we recognize that broadband is the indispensable infrastructure of our time, and that without a culture that supports an ongoing commitment to digital fluency and digital justice, rural communities will wither. At the heart of our approach is high-touch, multi-sector, sustained community commitment to building a “culture of use” that puts technology to work for community prosperity and vibrant civic life with benefits for all. This includes community-wide visioning and goal setting.
In sum, we work with communities to help them use broadband as a strategy for job growth and wealth creation. In telling our story, I hope that some of what we’ve learned in this work might help illustrate how “seeing like a community” might be not only the best guarantee of your network’s long-term sustainability, but also a good thing unto itself. Good, and good for you, as my Dad would say.
Here are a few examples of how concerted collaborative efforts to boost broadband adoption and use can advance: work force development, innovation, educational opportunity for all, job growth, wealth creation, and civic vibrancy. An immigrant resource center in Winona MN, has launched digital literacy training in Hmong and Spanish for recent immigrants. The town of Thief River Falls launched “Computers for Our Community,” a collaboration between local broadband providers and a nonprofit. The project delivers refurbished computers, reduced-rate broadband subscriptions, and digital literacy courses for low-income families. To date, 84% of program participants have continued their broadband subscriptions even after the initial subsidies ended. A consortium of nine school districts in Stevens County in rural southern Minnesota developed a broadband-based system to provide specialized distance learning services for students with disabilities. Benton County added new computers in libraries, schools, and senior housing and created 13 new Wi-Fi access points throughout their community, including an elder care facility. The Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe incorporated digital literacy training into an existing temporary employment program (TEP), providing band members with resources to build online job search and work skills. After improving their computer skills, many participants have been inspired to pursue their GED.Remote Cook County, next to the Boundary Waters Wilderness Canoe Area, opened a computer lab as part of a higher education distance learning partnership with 24 institutions of higher learning. Successes like these don’t happen without intentionality and investment. They take collaboration and partnership. It’s like leadership… you have to do it yourself but you can’t do it alone. But for a number of reasons, it’s not always easy for network owners and managers to partner with communities. We have found that it helps a lot if communities and providers can see the linkages in their aspirations for the network.
Here’s a cross walk of concepts and terms – developed by Bill Coleman of Community Technology Advisors: Provider Marketing PlansCommunity Development PlansLinkage Sell high bandwidth and value-added services to businesses Transform businesses to be globally competitiveTech savvy businesses are positioned to succeedSell high bandwidth and value-added services to community institutionsEnsure that schools and hospitals are community assets that attract new residents Well connected institutions deliver world-class servicesIncrease broadband penetration to 100%Ensure that everyone is connected to enable full community and economic participation Digital inclusion expands market and enables community innovationInvest in a growing market that provides ROISupport high quality of life that retains and attracts residents and businessesQuality broadband is a marketable asset
Here are some lessons the communities have taught us: Recruit local champions. This is Rule 1: No local champion(s), no initiative! Communities know best.Involve citizens directly in articulating their community’s broadband adoption and utilization goals.Broadband is not an end in itself.It is a means to the higher ends of increased economic vitality and improved quality of life. Framing it this way helps. High touch outreach works.Effective recruitment strategies are intra-community, hyper local, and personalized. Change follows relationship lines. Cross-community communication is key.Signage, local media support, and aligned social media are effective low-cost ways to spur and sustain energy and excitement for community projects. Engage tomorrow’s leaders today.Recognize and authentically engage the talents of young people. This generation of leaders brings energy and sustainability to any community initiative. Have patience.This work takes time. Look for and celebrate early and easy “wins,” but think long term and build capacity and energy for the long haul.
Market Development = Community DevelopmentYour brandTrusted partnerState of the art network Quality serviceSoft sales environmentSales opportunitiesConnectivityEquipmentServicesEntire community is your extended sales force Community brandTech savvy communityPlace for tech businesses and people to moveEveryone is connectedCool community broadband applicationsTechnology new seen as a problem solving toolA “culture of use” emerges
MIRC Presentation at Chicago Broadband COnference
Seeing Like a Community:
Doing Well by Doing Good
Bernadine Joselyn, Director Public Policy & Engagement
Blandin Foundation, Grand Rapids, Minnesota
Sell high bandwidth and
value-added services to
Transform businesses to be
Tech savvy businesses
are positioned to
Sell high bandwidth and Ensure that schools and
value-added services to hospitals are community
community institutions assets that attract new
penetration to 100%
Ensure that everyone is
connected to enable full
community and economic
Digital inclusion expands
market and enables
Invest in a growing
market that provides
Support high quality of life
that retains and attracts
residents and businesses
Quality broadband is a
Market Development = Community Development
• Your brand
– Trusted partner
– State of the art network
– Quality service
• Soft sales environment
• Sales opportunities
• Entire community is your extended
• Community brand
– Tech savvy community
– Place for tech businesses and
people to move
• Everyone is connected
• Cool community broadband
• Technology new seen as a problem
• A “culture of use” emerges
For more information:
Blandin on Broadband Blog
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