DALLAS, May 2, 2011 - A panel of private industry experts assembled last week to discuss the impact of broadband on rural economies and how to best incorporate it during Rural Telcon at Broadband Properties Magazine's 2011 summit.
Michael Curri, Founder and CEO of Strategic Networks Group, Inc. - a company that specializes in broadband deployment and development - began the panel by pointing out that broadband economies would not adequately grow without help and asking what can be done to spur adoption.
"We are the broadband economists, said Curri early on in his presentation. "Lessaiz faire isn't going to get the market where we want it to go quickly enough."
The key, he said, is to act on measurable data to assess needs and construct solutions. When needs are properly assessed and solutions are designed and executed to meet those needs, the positive impact on economies could be significant.
He pointed to data collected in North Carolina, showing that despite the recent economic downturn, jobs gained in the internet economy outnumbered those lost by sevenfold and that regions with better broadband showed improved productivity.
Angela Wu, the Founder and President of Move It Online (MIO), presented similar findings with her organization in Washington State. She identified as a major issue the reluctance of individuals and business owners who are unfamiliar with online technologies to transition from a purely brick-and-mortar commercial presence to one that is click-and-mortar.
"Have you thought about what you're asking [rural communities] to do?" said Wu, acknowledging individuals' hesitance to adopt broadband-base commerce before noting that the reticence was a hurdle, not a roadblock.
"It is absolutely doable and absolutely important even though it is a major shift in the way we're asking people to think about it," she continued.
Wu and MIO found that providing workshops to help business owners understand the tools at their disposal through workshops on broadband and social media. Through those workshops, they found that business owners in Seattle's Pike Place Market that had an online portion to their businesses drew 10 to 20 percent from it.
"What you can do to help them is to make this all very understandable and clear," she said.
Wu went on to assert that communities that without meaningful broadband connections will increasingly experience a "brain drain," as talented youth and business professionals flee to greener digital pastures.
Frank Odasz, President at Lone Eagle Consulting, which specializes in fast-track online Internet training for rural, remote, and indigenous learners, indicated a similar experience working to get small businesses online.
"How can you create value is the global question," he told the audience, noting the power of personal experiences. "What people [are saying] is, 'if this stuff is so great, show me a success story from others.'"
For his success story, Odasz showed a video telling the story of Shane Johnson, the owner of www.batsbatsbats.com. Johnson, who runs his business from a town in rural Idaho, began with a small online shop selling baseball bats. Five years later, he is on his fifth location - having outgrown the previous four - a 12,000-square-foot warehouse with a storefront. Johnson does 99 percent of his business outside of Idaho.
During the question-and-answer portion of the panel, the participants stressed the notion that given the infrastructure and some help to create the know-how, anywhere can be the start of another success story or economic revival.
"Once [people are] onboard successfully, they will only grow," said Wu. "You're helping to support emerging markets in your state."