Local leadership recognized as key to increasing national broadband access and use

Posted in Broadband, Community Leadership

The power of community leadership took center stage in President Obama’s preview of his appearance yesterday in Cedar Falls, IA, where he talked about his plan to increase access to affordable, high-speed broadband in rural and urban communities across the country.

The President featured Cedar Falls, or Iowa’s first “Gigabit City,” in the preview, comparing the 40,000+ person town to international metropolises like Seoul, Hong Kong, Tokyo and Paris. Community leadership – he said – is the force that propelled Cedar Falls forward to become a global leader in broadband.

“Citizens got together and made the investment to bring competition in and make sure Internet speeds were just as fast as anywhere else.”

This type of local leadership is crucial to advancing broadband access and use and is happening in small communities all over the country.

Blanketing the state from Thief River Falls to Winona, 11 rural Minnesota communities were highlighted in a report released yesterday by the the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, in conjunction with the President’s visit. The report highlights the “tremendous social and economic impacts” of the Broadband Technology Opportunities Program, a program of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act in which Blandin Foundation was a grantee. Strong local leadership in these communities led to 32,730 hours of Digital Literacy and Workforce and Economic Development training and resulted in 56,663 new household broadband subscribers in rural Minnesota. Some specific examples include:

  • Boreal. TV in Grand Marais, a new local access online video site that connects residents of and visitors to this far-flung northeastern Minnesota community with local activities from government meetings to local sports events.
  • Lac qui Parle County in far west-central Minnesota created the Computer Commuter – a mobile computer lab (retooled hotel shuttle bus) that brings free broadband access to communities in one of Minnesota’s most sparsely populated regions.
  • The University of Minnesota Extension’s Center for Community Vitality conducted training for more than 2,400 small rural Minnesota businesses on how to use high-speed internet for marketing, sales and operations. Businesses that participated in training had a bigger digital presence than those who did not, according to CV’s follow-up research.

Just last week, Blandin Foundation awarded nine broadband grants for projects that help rural communities stay competitive in a digitally-connected world (stay tuned for more info). From hackfests that encourage tech entrepreneurship to training classes that help businesses stay competitive, we’ve learned in our 11 year working with communities to boost their access and use of broadband that it all comes down to community leadership.

This learning was reflected in President Obama’s remarks yesterday when he unveiled some details on his community-based broadband plan. Called out in a White House press release, one part of the plan includes “Expanding the National Movement of Local Leaders for Better Broadband.”

For a full look at what the national broadband conversation means in Minnesota, check out the Blandin on Broadband blog.