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Rural Broadband Forum: Connecting Rural Leaders For Broadband

in Broadband's Impact/National Broadband Plan by

DALLAS, April 28, 2010 - Day Two at the 2010 Broadband Properties Summit here began with a discussion by broadband experts about how to connect rural leaders into the broadband equation.

Moderated by Bill Shuffstall, extension educator at Pennsylvania State University, forum speakers included Mark DeFalco, telecommunications initiative manager for the Appalachian Regional Commission; Greg Laudeman, of the Enterprise Innovation Institute at Georgia Institute of Technology; Richard Lowenberg, founder of the  1st-Mile Institute; and Brent Legg, director of stakeholder relations for Connected Nation.

DeFalco presented the scenario that rural leaders must ask the hard question, “can companies make money by going into these communities?”

He went on to say that rural communities must create a demand for broadband before companies will make that leap. They must create political capital by finding the break-even point for their initiatives, and suggested that leaders should mirror successful communities in their efforts to establish a viable plan.

Laudeman spoke about the critical need for infrastructure and whether rural community leadership plan “makes sense,” coupled with the need to educate leaders on the benefits of broadband. Many civic and community leaders do not seem to understand the importance of broadband and its potential to impact their communities, he said.

The job of community leadership was to “connect the silos,” said Laudeman, and helping constituents understand the benefits of broadband. To make that case, he proposed visiting constituents and asking them, “ where will your grandchildren live in the future”? The “generational hand-over” should be initiated using broadband technology to enhance keeping local businesses intact for the future, while at the same time attracting new ones.

Lowenberg emphasized that leaders do not know how to think about broadband and need to think of the relationship of government and private sectors, which is economic driven, while buying into a changing social evolution. The connection should be to energy, water, going green, and a social transformation.

He also spoke of the initiative in New Mexico where tribal community leaders are taking a cohesive and coordinated approach to broadband. This includes weekly meetings to work on a coordinated approach to roll-out broadband; leaders committed to working for a knowledge based society, and realizing they are part of global relationships connected to a technological society.

Legg put a strong emphasis on working together as an important component for community leaders, mayors, governments, and healthcare by developing a strategic plan and building a coalition of broadband taskforces; they must solicit leaders from both the public and private sectors which is now coming together with working regional broadband taskforces.

Those local task forces will make the difference in creating a legitimate business case for broadband, said Legg, and that communities must “answer the economic development question. What do you want to accomplish in community in next 25 years?”

The taskforce must include a wide variety of leaders who are advocates for technology, bringing everyone together for a common goal by involving the whole community, while creating e-community leadership teams. This is evidenced in Kansas with farmers trying to save the family farm, and how to spur innovation in rural Kansas through new technologies.

Len Grace is a Cable Industry veteran with over 18 years experience as a former General Manager with Comcast Corporation. His insights into pertinent and relevant issues within the Telecom/Cable TV arenas both inform and enlighten readers on current industry trends. Currently, Len is an Independent Consultant/Strategist and Blogger who contributes to Light Reading/Cable Digital News, an internationally syndicated technology news organization. Len blogs under the title The Cable Pipeline offering research and commentary on today’s broadband issues. Also see his expert opinion.


  1. At FirstMile.US, our experience has been that rural leaders do understand the vital importance of broadband in their communities but cannot get traction with existing broadband providers to extend big broadband to their areas. Please take a few minutes and watch these two videos to get an understanding of the issues.
    This first videos is providers talking specifically about rural return on investment:
    The video talks about right of way and permitting issues in rural areas:

    There are no simple solutions to this issue.

  2. Susan, thank you for the great comment!

    In watching your first video, its seems that there needs to be more of a consortium of entities on the same page when it comes to broadband poliferation. In that statement I refer to creating e-economy taskforces on a regional bases, since construction normally involves mutiple jurisdictions, and have those taskforces bring everyone to the table to discuss and decide the best way to handle moving projects forward. This probably means getting both local, state, and even federal officials involved in this taskforce, in addition to the private sector.

    Everyone has to be committed and communicating togther for the good of all communities. It will take strong leadership and a willingness to cooperate to get the job done.

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