Want a Successful Stock Offering for Community Broadband? Partnerships Are Key

One way to shut down the outrageous opposition incumbents throw in front of community broadband projects is for communities to become, literally, stockholders in the network. The way the Green Bay Packers do it. They raised $70 million in five weeks selling $250 stock shares Dec – Jan. The worst time of year during one of the worse recessions in history.

Say what you will about the team’s playoff performance, the city of Green Bay totally kicks butt when it comes to displaying their prowess as community owners of a vital economic asset. Communities across the U.S. that want better broadband can learn from them – and replicate their success, though maybe on a smaller dollar scale and a longer timeline. But in the end, they should have the kind of highspeed broadband that improves economic development, healthcare delivery, education and several other vital functions that benefit individuals and local businesses.

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Walking in the Shoes of Poor Kids Using Broadband

Just before the holidays, a columnist (Gene Marks) for Forbes Magazine wrote a piece “If I Was a Poor Black Kid.” It presents how he would handle life and deal with technology if, instead of being a middle class, middle aged white guy from the suburbs, he were walking in a poor kid’s shoes. The resulting firestorm was swift, intense and largely negative, not as much for the ideas as for Marks’ tone and erroneous assumptions behind those ideas.

Unfortunately, one of the underlying causes for these off-the-mark assumptions is the stereotype that urban poor kids don’t do anything worthwhile on the Internet. So many articles about digital inclusion efforts or broadband adoption among inner city poor folks are followed by incendiary commentary from those who believe poor kids are lazy, only surf porn, aren’t capable of learning and a host of other fallacies.

There’s quite a different reality when you do a little research. There are projects going on that are lifting kids out of poverty and setting them on various tech-related career paths. Here are a couple that should be promoted and replicated in some way by those individuals, government agencies and organizations wanting to close the digital divide.

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Community Foundations Boost Broadband and Economic Development

Today’s guest on my Gigabit Nation radio talk show, Sharon Stroh, gives us lots of valuable details on Steuben County, IN’s foundation that has made broadband possible for this rural area in Indiana. Before listening to the show, below is a helpful primer from fellow broadband advocate Larry Baumgart.

Community foundations are tax-exempt public charities serving thousands of people who share a common interest—improving the quality of life in their area. Individuals, families, businesses, and organizations create permanent charitable funds that help their region meet local challenges. (Check out the Council On Foundations)

The community foundation should be formed under the auspices of a Community Development Co-operative and could be used to coordinate grant applications and to issue community bonds for open access broadband networks, community media center, schools, clinics, etc.    This can be readily accomplished by transferring public land, worthy assets, into the community foundation to secure bonds which local residents can invest their money, savings, 401Ks, etc. and can not only get interest, but through a cooperative might reap dividends depending on how the funds are used.

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Building a Foundation for Broadband and Economic Development

Listen to Gigabit Nation’s show with Sharon Stroh, Director of Business Development for iMAN. This community foundation is bringing broadband to rural Stueben County. But not only does the foundation make broadband possible, it also provides grants for local economic development projects.

You should consider this strategy for your community.

 

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Funding Broadband by Turning Users Into Investors

Let’s explore a different strategic approach to funding.

In 2009 I came across National Community Development Services, Inc. (NCDS), which specializes in boosting the economic health of communities through a process they term economic development fundraising. The concept is simple, really, and can be applied to broadband projects where one of the main goals is to use the network to improve economic development. Build a financial sustainability strategy based on a campaign to recruit investors for the network.

As I find interesting guests to invite to be on my radio show, Gigabit Nation, I’m finding a theme that keeps recurring in slightly different forms, but with the same bottom line – fund a network by convincing local businesses, not-for-profits and other organizations to underwrite the costs. One variation to that are co-ops, such as the Mountain Area Information Network (MAIN) that I’m highlighting on tomorrow’s show.

We’re not talking investors as a euphemism for “subscribers,” but people who invest more than the price of service in exchange for a piece of the action. This aligns with my position that communities need to treat broadband networks as a business venture.

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