The Institute for Local Self-Reliance (ILSR) has announced an affordable program to help communities strategize about how to get better broadband. The new online course lasts for eight weeks and is called the Let’s Get Going Broadband Program. It’s modeled a bit after a program offered for many years in Minnesota by the Blandin Foundation and more recently offered by several states.
The purpose of this course if to provide training for a handful of local people – be that city staff or community volunteers – who want to help advance the process of getting better broadband for a community. The course goes beyond just getting broadband and also forces participants to consider how their community will leverage better broadband after they find it.
As anybody who reads this blog knows, finding the right broadband solution can feel complicated and overwhelming. This course will break the topic down into digestible pieces. Rather than throw everything at participants at once, over an eight-week period, the course will look at a range of topics that will help communities find a broadband solution. The list of weekly topics is a great outline of a step-by-step approach to finding a broadband solution with topics like:
- Broadband 101. What are the basics behind how a broadband network functions? What are the pros and cons of various broadband technologies that cities will likely be offered?
- Identifying Broadband Problems. I often refer to this as a broadband gap analysis – what unique issues is a given community having because of a lack of broadband? Are speeds too slow? Are there too many people not connected to broadband? Is lack of broadband hurting the business community?
- Infrastructure Challenges. What kinds of issues are faced by anybody building a fiber network – important to understand since the local issues in a given community will define the willingness of ISPs to build there.
- Building a Broadband Coalition. The communities that are benefitting the most from getting better broadband are those that have brought all local stakeholders to the table – citizens, local government, non-profits, healthcare, public safety, the business community, and key anchor institutions like schools and libraries.
- Infrastructure Solutions. What are the disruptions that come when building a network? Like with any major infrastructure initiative, expanding broadband is not painless.
- Digital Equity Solutions. How can a community make sure that everybody has the opportunity to be connected to broadband, including making sure there are computers in homes and training on how to use them? How can a community help to make broadband affordable?
- Funding Programs. How are communities funding broadband networks? What kinds of grants are available to communities, and how does a community go about pursuing grants? Where does a community find the rest of the funding?
One of the best features of this learning is that it is done by a group of cities together so that participants can learn from the ideas and approaches being considered by others. ILSR calls each group of participants a cohort, and the group will work together online and share ideas during the course.
The goal of the course is for each community to find its best solution to better broadband – and it’s likely that every city in a cohort will seek a unique and separate path. The purpose of the training is to help participants gain the common vocabulary of broadband to enable the community to make informed choices about broadband.
NTIA should replicate a similar course and provide it to all communities.
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