Broadband Communities

NOV-DEC 2017

BROADBAND COMMUNITIES is the leading source of information on digital and broadband technologies for buildings and communities. Our editorial aims to accelerate the deployment of Fiber-To-The-Home and Fiber-To-The-Premises.

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20 | BROADBAND COMMUNITIES | | NOVEMBER/DECEMBER 2017 ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT Social Broadband Rural economic development requires grassroots action to build and use broadband. By Tim Will / Catalpa Partners C onventional wisdom states that a technological solution is the panacea for reaching the vast areas of the United States that have no or subpar internet. However, making broadband internet access faster through investment in fiber optics does nothing for the 35 million Americans who cannot read text or for the 17 million seniors – potential beneficiaries of cost-cutting advances in telemedicine – who find the internet too difficult to use. According to a 2003 assessment by the National Center for Education Statistics, about 14 percent of adults in the United States are functionally illiterate. Few have entered the new internet economy or tapped its vast economic and intellectual potential. Nor can they easily look for jobs, apply for unemployment benefits or food stamps, fill out student-aid forms or take online classes. e U.S. Census estimates that 49.2 million U.S. residents are 65 or older, and according to a recent Pew Research Center survey, 41 percent of them do not use the internet. irty-four percent stated that it was too difficult, and 19 percent said broadband was too expensive. INTRODUCING SOCIAL BROADBAND Inclusive solutions require community investments in what Catalpa Partners calls "social broadband." Social broadband involves educational, technical and political steps that are technologically appropriate, are inexpensive and empower marginalized or incipiently marginalized citizens. ese steps are prerequisites for any community that endeavors to balance broadband availability with internet literacy. ey involve building partnerships and developing participation within the community during its evolution to a rural internet community. Social broadband is a dynamic, community- based process to future proof the community from expected technological obsolescence. It affords the creation of a multitude of small, home- and farm-based businesses through inclusion of the community in the value chain of multiple worldwide markets. is is especially important to communities that attempt to justify the cost of a broadband infrastructure with factors that may be missing from a broadband provider's return on investment calculus: the community's accelerated economic growth, cohesion, resilience and even economic survival. Why wait and pay to expand a provider's grid out to a rural community? Communities need to connect themselves back to that grid. Conversations about gigabit transport are somewhat lost on folks who have dial-up or 1.5 Mbps DSL. For communities losing their youthful populations, the stakes are too high to wait for conversations with incumbents to start. Rather, the process starts by reconciling the leadership of a poorly connected community to the fact that its broadband deficiency is not just a technical issue; political impediments aggravate the imbalance in rural broadband connectivity. First, the community needs to look at the genesis of electrical cooperatives in the United States. Although municipal electric utilities were fairly common by 1890, 40 years later, 90 percent of U.S. farms and small towns were dark at night, except for the occasional kerosene lantern. Does

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