Communities across the United States today sit at a flash point. On one side, the long-simmering gaps in our broadband infrastructure and the prohibitive cost of fast, reliable Internet access faced by low-income households have left millions of families behind, unable to work, learn, visit the doctor, or stay connected to their local governments. On the other, billions in federal broadband funding have been disbursed over the last twelve months, with tens of billions more to come both directly to cities and counties and, further down the road, via grants given out by state broadband offices. It’s a rare chance to address the digital divide in all of its forms.
But the broadband landscape is complicated and confusing for those new to working in it. Every day, we hear from communities looking to orient themselves to the challenges and opportunities they face, and this need only seems to be growing. In response, the Institute for Local Self-Reliance (ILSR) is excited to announce two new programs to help leaders and local government officials address their community’s needs in practical, efficient, clear-eyed ways, with sensitivity to all the things that make their community unique. ILSR has nearly 20 years of experience working on local broadband solutions that are accountable to local residents and businesses. We helped to develop the Tribal Broadband Bootcamp, and have worked with hundreds of communities from the smallest towns to the largest cities and counties.
Neither of the programs below is intended to replace existing specialized consultants. Rather, the aim is to help communities understand what their options are before they engage with consultants, so that they can be more efficient with their time.
Announcing the Urban Digital Equity Bootcamp
While most policymakers remain focused on broadband gaps in rural areas, residents of urban areas understand all too well the connectivity problems faced by those who live in cities. The greatest opportunities to achieve digital equity in urban communities is approaching, with unprecedented government and philanthropic support available to address needs long neglected. However, communities need local champions to ensure that problems are resolved in accordance with local goals.
More than 20 years of top-down solutions have failed to result in more connected, resilient communities. The Urban Digital Equity Bootcamps are instead based on the framework that bottom-up approaches, based on trust and local relationships, offer the best path forward. Modeled after the Tribal Broadband Bootcamp, and having learned lessons from the Digital Equity Leadership Lab and Broadband Accelerate approaches, we propose two-day events to develop skills and relationships as well as the needed expertise and partnerships to set and achieve digital equity goals. The program is designed to:
- Increase knowledge and confidence of participants to allow them to better take action in their communities to achieve digital equity. This includes developing familiarity with key jargon and technologies related to Internet access.
- Develop diverse cohorts and a larger human network of people sharing local strategies, challenges, and solutions.
- Demystify Internet technology through hands-on applications and small group learning
Attendees will include a diverse group of stakeholders, from local leaders to activists to the philanthropic community. A key group of attendees would include organizations that already have the trust of frontline communities – groups that understand the importance of digital equity but haven’t had the capacity to address it. In larger communities, multiple events can be tailored to fit the different needs of different neighborhoods.
The primary objective will be building knowledge and trust among local organizations so they can engage in strategic campaigns of digital inclusion. These events will need significant local coordination to be effective.
The Urban Digital Equity Bootcamps will begin this fall. Contact Community Broadband Networks Outreach Team Lead DeAnne Cuellar at firstname.lastname@example.org for more details, including cost.
Announcing the Let’s Get Going Broadband Program
Community broadband planning and coordinating digital inclusion ecosystems is complicated work. Cities and counties struggling to find the best tools and methodologies needed to address infrastructure and digital inclusion can find the solutions they need by participating in ILSR’s Let’s Get Going Broadband Program.
This eight-week, cohort-based program is designed to help local governments, elected officials, nonprofits, foundations, and digital equity advocates orient themselves and develop solutions. This progressive, syllabus-based program is aimed at helping participants understand local needs, evaluate options, and chart an achievable path to their goals. From leveraging existing assets, to financing, to partnerships, to evaluating available models for success, this program demystifies every step of the process.
It offers individualized advice and assistance along the way, while at the same time placing each community in a small cohort with other cities and counties aiming to solve similar problems. Each cohort will move through the Let’s Get Going Broadband Program together, sharing information, asking questions, and building a network of support along the way. It includes targeted readings, discussions facilitated by ILSR staff, interactive webinars, technical orientation, and lessons learned from fifteen years of tracking, writing about, and talking to communities that have tackled the task of improving their city infrastructure, boosting economic development, improving competition, and reaching the unserved and underserved by investing in locally owned solutions.
The first Let’s Get Going Broadband Program cohort is scheduled to begin in September. The cost per community is $15,000, and we recommend each community will select 3-5 participants to attend.
See the full program flyer with schedule here [pdf], or below.
- Cohort Building - An opportunity for a local broadband team to join a eight-week cohort with other communities in a customized curriculum to develop expertise in solving broadband challenges and taking advantage of funding opportunities.
- Trainings - 90-minute interactive webinars focused on understanding - in a commonly accessible manner - broadband technologies, challenges, and how similarly situated communities have addressed these problems.
- Technical Assistance - Eight, 2-hour technical assistance sessions rooted in local needs
- Community Progress Reports and Research - Help in developing an information-gathering project with diverse community stakeholders to define digital inclusion problems.
Contact Community Broadband Networks Outreach Team Lead DeAnne Cuellar at email@example.com for more details.