Authenticating Rural Internet and Broadband Benefits

A Reality Check (Short Version) (Full Paper)

By Frank Odasz - Lone Eagle Consulting

The Role of Rural Common Sense

The common view of many rural communities, as quoted from the Beaverhead County commissioner’s office in Dillon, Montana, USA, is “We’ve yet to see a rural community benefit significantly from use of the Internet.”


There’s an important missing link here between the glowing promises of the telecommunications companies and others that broadband is essential and indisputably beneficial, and the perception of rural citizens based on their very practical experience that there are few proven benefits.

The web has been growing for nearly ten years, but in the U.S. the hoped for benefits are far from being realized. Infrastructure has been repeatedly installed without citizens receiving training and the vision of what’s possible, and remains seriously underutilized in most schools and communities. All communities and nations share the opportunity to benefit from lessons learned in the U.S., Canada, and elsewhere on how best to combine caring and connectivity with applied common sense.

What Were We Thinking?
WHAT IF, ten years ago when rural communities in the U.S. first received unlimited local dial-up Internet access at a nominal cost we’d created community learning programs to rapidly raise awareness as to the true full potential for rural Ecommerce and being first-to-market to claim global niche markets? Instead of seeing the big picture and taking full advantage of this first-to-market global advantage we’ve missed a major opportunity and today face direct competition from tens of thousands of international communities who now share the same level of Internet access. As we hear the clamor for rural broadband amid our current state of severe rural economic decline and out-migration – what will we do differently this time around?

Owning the Vision - and the Responsibility.
In the U.S. the biggest problem hasn’t been the issue of the haves and the have-nots, but that of the Will-Nots - those who have the opportunity for access and self-empowerment and choose to ignore it – for whatever reasons. With power comes responsibility and if we deny that we actually do have the power to do something to change our situations, and make a significant difference in the world, then we remove ourselves from any responsibility to change. A common perception is that the Internet is a time-wasting toy best suited for kids with time to kill. The Pew Foundation recently produced a report stating that most of those not on the Internet don’t want to be.

Three Indisputable Historical Firsts
Internet access gives us three key historical firsts, the ability to access specific human knowledge within seconds of having the need, the ability to collect the best resources from worldwide sources and self-publish these globally along with our original contributions, and the ability to collaborate with individuals and groups worldwide. With such tools at our fingertips, we’re limited only by our imaginations. But therein lies the rub, we’re limited by our imaginations. In truth, the Internet is a human potential exploration device representing an economy of ideas we have yet to appreciate.

Unprecedented Potential for Positive Local and Global Change
New satellite and wireless technologies have made it feasible for the majority of the global population, representing 15,000+ cultures, to have Internet access in the next few decades – in a world where half the population has yet to make their first phone call and where poverty prevails. But, early evidence suggests motivating and training people to use this access well has become the primary barrier to achieving the potential benefits.


An Issue of National Competitiveness
The vigor of our communities, our nation, and all nations, will depend on creating motivated lifelong learners, proactive citizens who are value-driven, innovative entrepreneurs, skilled collaborators, and citizens who are both consumers and producers - both learners and teachers, all the time.


Top-Down Builders Must Partner with the Bottom-Up Users
The Top-Down Builders of these “community networks” must learn how to effectively partner with the Bottom-Up intended users if widespread innovation and resulting benefits are to be realized. This quandary was articulately expressed by a speaker at a recent Jamaican ICT conference: “There are two kinds of people; those who manage what they do not understand, and those who understand what they do not manage.”

First - Prove What Works
To learn what works, proof-of-concept pilot projects are needed followed by ongoing storytelling between communities as continual innovations emerge. Measurable outcomes need to be visible and ongoing to provide a means for continual individual, community, and national self-assessment. “Web-raising” events are needed to bring people together to recognize their joint potential and to create meaningful content relevant to local needs. Stimulating and coordinating widespread individual innovation and learning requires a social engineering strategy unlike anything we’ve ever seen. The authenticity of direct citizen engagement and real benefits will determine the direction forward. If inspiring community success stories don’t yet exist, we need to create them as role models for what can be done with a bit of patience and perseverance.

Community action plans and awareness-raising motivational event examples are listed in “The Bootstrap Academy” and measurable outcomes are listed in “The Ten First Steps for Community Ecommerce and Telework Preparedness” at Both are integrated in a multi-community implementation model detailed at

Government Risk Sharing with Rural Communities
National infrastructure deployment initiatives can put the government at risk for failing to deliver on promised benefits. If infrastructure is installed in communities unwilling to learn to use it, whose fault is it? Risk-sharing with communities needs to be explicit, and stepped implementation plans need to include training and measured milestones before the next level of infrastructure is installed.

An emerging key strategy for national economic competitiveness is proving to be the deployment and financial investment targeting the best balance of Internet infrastructure and applications training which has proven to produce the best measurable outcomes per dollar invested. Ongoing fine tuning based on ongoing learning, emerging superior strategies, and better measurable outcomes is to be expected to establish an evolving “Genuine Progress Index.”

Dramatic evidence already exists in most developed countries that infrastructure alone won’t create the hoped for changes – it is what people learn to actually do with the infrastructure, and we already know this is not as obvious as we’d hoped. Many if not most rural citizens are not ready to change their thinking and/or behavior. Readiness to change is a fundamental and measurable dynamic. The most important social and economic benefits are not as tightly related to the speed of Internet as was originally assumed. The value of specific timely information to meet specific individual needs is usually NOT solely an issue of data volume or bandwidth. Meeting information needs in most instances has more to do with the quality of relationships than the quantity of the data sent.  “Human bandwidth” is a key component, often overlooked.

Community Liaisons – Social Recognition of a New Social Role and Function
New behavioral models defining a new role for community liaisons need to be created where laptops and cell phones can be used by mentors to connect citizens with the most appropriate government services and skill development opportunities.  Incentives for citizens to perform this role could include specialized Internet empowerment training to create “lone eagles” able to live and work anywhere based on their new skills. The community liaison role needs to be held up as socially important, a broker for essential information and a source for storytelling as to what’s now available.

Virtual One-stops – An Emerging Model
The ideal relationship between individuals and their governments would be that all available services would be known to individuals – who would share in a national vision for everyone making their contribution to both the local and the national good. In the U.S. initial efforts to better disseminate information on available government services and information are represented by  A related effort to provide highest quality content to those who need it most is created by the Children’s Partnership Foundation, which includes an audio component to read pages to non-readers.

“One-stops” are offices integrating adult education, vocational education, and vocational rehabilitation. The idea is to lower costs while improving convenience by integrating multiple services in a single office. A problem has been that only 3-5% of citizens even know these services exist so the strategy has been to promote awareness by engaging Community Management Teams to perform an outreach role. If the one-stops were to take the next step and fully engage all available online government services on the one hand, and also engage multiple citizens in the role of community outreach liaisons on the other hand - then suddenly the schism between top-down and bottom-up begins to wonderfully disappear! The new economies and efficiencies for service delivery would be dramatic.

If We Each Commit to Do Our Part
We all need to understand that “Internet empowerment is not about what the government can do for you, but about what you can do for yourself, your family, your community, your culture, and beyond.” The opportunity is literally at our fingertips to make a major different in our lives and the lives of potentially many, many others. Those of us first to learn these self-empowerment skills share a global responsibility to help others learn, too. And we cannot deny that the Internet makes this responsibility indisputably convenient and doable. ”If we each can learn to commit to giving a little we’ll all have access to all our knowledge.”

Key questions remain as opportunities for innovation:

 “What’s the very best a remote individual or community can do for themselves given online access to a world of possibilities?”

”How can we learn to identify the best fast-track motivating instruction to empower the most people in the least amount of time at reasonable cost and in an ongoing manner such that everyone can stay current in a world of accelerating change?”

“How can we best provide a visible ongoing self-assessment measure for what’s working, and not working, locally?”


Lone Eagle Consulting’s Best Suggestions
Read the full paper at
Includes detailed implementation plans for creating inspiring replicable community success stories with visible ongoing measurable outcomes.