Rural Telecon: Broadband and local leaders

Ken Pigg, from the University of Missouri, has been studying community use of technology for more than a decade, and is among a handful of truly informed experts about community technology issues. At his RTC session, he talked about communities and the challenges they are facing as they try to grapple with the issue of broadband.

Pigg started off by noting that "...broadband is the base of the economy." I could not agree more, but we still have many economic developers making decisions for communities that have not yet figured this out. Ken went on to list three specific issues that communities have to deal with.

  • Leadership -- Community leaders have to make a long term commitment to shared leadership and regional collaboration. Pigg noted that successful community broadband projects need local broadband champions to keep the community headed in the right direction. Communities also need to recognize that in a global economy, local political boundaries don't matter very much, and communities that can't work with their neighbors on issues like broadband are likely to face difficulties.
  • Quality of Life -- Businesses interested in relocation are seeking specific quality of life attributes in candidate communities, and a successful economic development program needs to focus on more than water, sewer, and industrial parks. Workforce amenities--what employees and business owners do outside business hours--are now very important.
  • Post deployment marketing -- Pigg noted that communities are still using the "field of dreams" model for broadband projects, in which they buy some stuff, deploy it, and then forget about it. A year or two later, they are inevitably disappointed when their "broadband" project has not produced any significant economic impact. Pigg says that providing local businesses with education and technical assistance (to learn how to make best use of broadband) now has to be central to an economic development strategy.

Pigg's main point was that local leadership (or the lack of it) can make or break broadband projects. Are your local leaders technology savvy? Do your economic devlopment leaders make broadband a central part of the overall economic development strategy, or are they constantly doing another "study" without ever making significant investments in community broadband?

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