Dallas Roundup (Thoughts from the 2011 Broadband Properties Summit)

by Michael Curri

We delayed April’s newsletter (unless you want to call this the 34th of April) to make sure we could include a recap of the Broadband Properties Summit in Dallas last week.           

Representatives from the majority of States gathered for Thursday’s program dedicated to: “Broadband and Economic Development: A Hard Look at Job Creation from all Angles.”

The nature of broadband stimulus dollars was that they went mostly to “un” and “under” served geographies.  A very small portion of the stimulus funds had anything to do with actual broadband use – and in those cases, the programs were designed around basic training.

So the product of the broadband stimulus program focused on spreading the wealth to achieve availability, with the result that most States are using coverage as their end game.  Coverage does not necessarily beget adoption… and adoption does not beget utilization.

So we all believe that broadband drives job creation, opportunities, etc.  But we cannot necessarily assume that “build it and they will come” is a sound strategy. In fact, I think most of us would agree that for many communities and regions it isn’t.  So why is it that we leave that as the cornerstone to our economic development through broadband strategy?

Building broadband networks is a necessary, but not sufficient condition for economic impacts.  It is the act of utilization – of leveraging broadband that is at the heart of modern economic development. Whether the objective is retaining existing businesses and jobs, business growth, or improving the quality of jobs – e-solutions and online processes are the critical enablers that allow a community or region to successfully participate in the digital economy. Availability is important, but utilization is critical.

In Dallas I heard numerous times that as broadband coverage is now increasing with ARRA projects, the question that often now gets asked is: “What is the broadband problem?”

This question should be re-framed. In fact, legislators, economic development officers and those working with broadband agencies should respond with the following questions:

  • Do you want local businesses to be more productive and be able to compete in the global economy? Do you want to keep local jobs?
  • Do you want youth to have the opportunity to have high paying local employment?
  • Do you want your region to be more resilient to shocks and enhance quality of life?

The answer is inevitably yes, but without broadband utilization such desired outcomes are unlikely.

While some regions and communities have the organic capacity to take advantage of broadband, most require planning, strategies, and the promotion and utilization of e-solutions to leverage broadband infrastructure. This is a transition and a restructuring process. It is needed – in fact critical – to ensure that modern regions can compete in the global economy.

Economic development and broadband agencies, as well as policy makers need the data, strategy, actionable economic development plan, constituent and stakeholder buy-in, and ongoing monitoring and analysis needed to put communities and regions in a position to compete in the global economy. By uncovering existing barriers to current utilization of e-solutions by households, businesses and civic organizations, it is possible to develop a roadmap to accelerate and optimize measurable and sustainable socio-economic gains at a regional level.

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