What Econ Dev Professionals Are Saying about Broadband

This week, in partnership with the International Economic Development Council (IEDC), I launched my annual national survey of economic development professionals to gather their feedback on the role broadband plays, or could play, influencing various local economic outcomes. I started doing this in 2006 because I felt that government officials, consultants, the media and others were overstating muni wireless’ potential impact on local economies.

The exaggerations from elected officials often were the result of not fully understanding what the technology could and couldn’t do. You have to go to the people who work in the trenches every day tackling economic development issues to learn what are reasonable expectations. More politicians then should have taken their cues from the professionals, but fortunately today quite a few elected leaders are calling it right when it comes to broadband and its economic impact.

This year’s survey doesn’t close until Friday (8/26), and I won’t give away the results until after that. But one thing I always find informative is to give survey respondents one open-ended question in which they say how they really feel about an issue. This year’s bonus question is, “How can you and your professional peers help communities get broadband services that improve local economic development?”

Here’s just a small sample of a cross section of the many opinions submitted so far, and in no particular order. Check them out. I’ll release survey results, including all the comments, in my final report on September 19 at IEDC’s annual conference in Charlotte, NC.

If you work in economic development or you’re an elected official and you haven’t completed the survey yet, do it now. It’ll take less than 15 minutes, and your feedback is a very important contribution to the national discussion.

Survey respondents’ open-ended feedback 

  1. In our state we have trouble obtaining good data on availability, usage, coverage. We need unbiased third party research on coverage, cost, and usage by local geography.
  2. Funding should not go into provision of internet for “underserved” populations. It should be prioritized into areas with the highest potential to benefit & create jobs through implementation of improved telecommunications services.
  3. Provide fundamental market demand information to private sector service providers, then let them drive the process. If local demand exceeds private sector willingness to invest, then proceed with community based coops etc. Very difficult time for local govs to invest in anything but basic services right now.
  4. Have to allow local control and input. Not a one size fits all. Huge private investment in fiber optic along Interstates no one can tap into. Infrastructure is one thing; allowing access is another. All the money in the world does no good if we can’t use the systems.
  5. Reduce govt. agency’s burdensome funding program regulations and streamline application process to encourage and stimulate interest in expanding broadband services. Allow program promotion and travel expenses to market the program and also to educate the communities about the value of higher speeds in regards to potential economic development impacts that could result from better technology infrastructure.
  6. Our issue is hidden pockets with limited or no service. Broadband wouldn’t help economic development as much as the quality of life for the people living here, and for that alone it is a worthwhile endeavor to discover markets for investors to exploit.
  7. We need redundancy in our more populated areas and any service, probably wireless, in less populated areas. Some of this is on the way. Big issue: Indian Country is left out. If we overlay a map of reservations in our regions with areas underserved by broadband, the overlap is distressing.
  8. I would like to see the opportunity/incentive to establish more PPPs that would allow communities to affordably finance intial projects that could be paid back over time as we have seen with solar power programs, such as those of Solar City.
  9. I would also like to provide high-speed access into co-work business incubators in our three major cities. This would allow people living in rural areas to come to a low-cost work site where they can meet clients and grow their one-person businesses.
  10. Worked as a grant manager for BTOP for a year as a detailee from EDA. Saw first hand the implementation of BTOP with great ideas for economic impact. did not see a concurrent effort to coordinate EDA [economic development agency] planning and TA [technical assistance] programs and BTOP infrastructure and PCC_SBA side. would be good to have greater coordination. This is the start of that coordination?
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One Response

  1. I hope economic development officials everywhere recognize that their efforts can’t end when the infrastructure is in place. As the e-Vermont Community Broadband Project is finding out, there is very little understanding of how to use broadband tools for community development. We’re working in 24 rural communities with our BTOP project and seeing a need for training in basic internet skills as well as more advanced classes to develop the digital leaders that will serve as mentors in these towns. And there are many small businesses (with great potential) that need 1:1 counseling just to get a web site up and running.
    Officials can learn more about this pilot project at http://www.e4vt.org We are eager to share what we’re learning to help communities across the country plan for this next phase. If there are speaking opportunities please be in touch.

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