Of the $7.4 billion, being allocated by the U.S. government for broadband access from the Stimulus Fund, Washington State was recently awarded $84 million, http://www.ntia.doc.gov/press/2010/03012010_BTOP_WAannounce.html.
The unfortunate aspect of this, and similar allocations, is that they really do nothing at the community level to address local end user communications or assist their local businesses where the real need is. As you will note in Washington State's case, "the grant will bring high-speed Internet access to more than 100 community anchor institutions – including community colleges, libraries, healthcare facilities, and government agencies – and lay the groundwork for bringing affordable broadband service to thousands of homes and businesses in the region." In essence, this is akin to building asphalt roads for anchor institutions with very little thought given to how those roads will enable and benefit local residents and businesses. This failure is already in evidence with respect to King County's I-Net http://www.kingcounty.gov/business/oirm/inet.aspx where the fiber that is linking institutions runs by homes and businesses that can't access it. Information highways linking institutions via middle mile solutions are short-sighted and really fail to address the key problem. Perhaps we should all be institutionalized. If this were asphalt highways built by taxpayer funds that residents and businesses couldn't use, the problem would be blatantly obvious.
What I would propose is to establish local community service cooperatives, that is, broadband cooperatives, to maximize the utilization of these information highways for purposes of not only educational and health stakeholder access, but for maximizing local revenue with respect to other broadband issues like e-mail, hosting, public safety, and utilization of local community resources to act as a local business incubator. Every community is going to be unique especially from the perspective of a community champion which is a prerequisite. All the altruistic reasons, that is, education, health, public safety, etc., for bridging the digital gap will inevitably fail unless another prerequisite is addressed, and that is entertainment. By empowering communities, and their own resouces, with technology and a cooperative endeavor, both the community's altruistic and self indulgent motives can be addressed. Specifically, I would suggest that a Co-op development proposal could utilize a USDA Rural Co-op Development Grant to address a couple of community pilot initiatives in conjunction with the aforementioned Washington State award, or other similar awards, with the intent to refine and make exemplary the community empowerment process through a broadband cooperative endeavor. In fact, why not incent local Chambers of Commerce, or other independent business associations, to become co-ops as they already have the collective interests of their communities or regions and only need to become more collaborative and comprehensive.
So, complementing Farmers' Market Co-ops we would have Broadband Co-ops, and perhaps move, for example, the Washington Rural Broadband Cooperative http://www.warbc.net initiative into a federation of cooperatives. Similarly, the Maryland Broadband Cooperative, http://www.mdbc.us and the Mid-Atlantic Broadband Cooperative, http://www.mbc-va.com could be more like federated cooperatives fostering community cooperatives similar to the Ripton Broadband Cooperative, http://www.ripton-coop.net which is a more community directed cooperative with basic attributes.
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