Making the Missing Connections… A Wake-up Call
Regarding True Community Internet Empowerment

By Frank Odasz,

A great deal has been written about the potential community empowerment of high speed Internet, as well as about the need for new levels of higher chaordic thought and organization. But, we've not seen any real progress in bringing these two together in realistic terms as measured by tangible economic and social benefit on any significant scale.

With the current, sudden, dire economic conditions, we find an immediate need for fast-track training and deployment of the best Internet economic solutions known. Missing is the means for fast-track motivation of citizens to up and do anything at all with Internet toward these economic and social goals.

Are we finally at the point where we can identify a readiness to make something concrete happen applying the potential of Internet in our communities? If so, there is an urgent need for clarity on the best possible directions forward, one step at a time toward specific measurable outcomes.

We might consider what level of leadership is necessary to get past the puffery surrounding "High speed Internet equals rural community prosperity," and begin addressing exactly what both individuals and communities will actually need to learn to do to realize such projected benefits.

We have a sudden readiness in our communities to contribute and participate, but participate in what, and contribute toward what end, is in question. If Internet holds the key to national prosperity, its time to get on with making it happen instead of pretending it will happen of itself once Internet is established for a given community. This has already proven to be untrue.

Like many others, a number of rural Oregon communities have finally met their goal and are now installing fiber optics. They are just beginning to realize they don't have a clue how to use it to create sustainable communities, or to justify their considerable investment.

Dillon, Montana, pop. 3,800, has a ten year history as the home of the Big Sky Telegraph, one of the first online networks to offer online courses. It is also the home of Dillonnet, a national and international rural innovation award finalist as a model community technology center for both the AOL rural innovations and International Bangemann Challenge competitions. Few communities can match this level of local innovation, yet the prevailing attitude toward the Internet is that it’s a time-wasting toy best suited for children and geeks. Despite successful use of Internet by many local businesses, we're seeing anti-technology attitudes overshadowing the facts, on both a local and a national level.

NOTE: Dillonet was on the front page of the San Jose Mercury news October 2000, but is now giving away its computers and shutting down due to lack of local support. SJ Mercury News front page article on impact of Internet in Dillon, Montana   Dillon-net Read their story at

The stories of failure to realize Internet benefits are widespread and instructive, if we take the time to study them.

A school district on the edge of Silicon Valley has fiber optics to all schools, yet in year 2000 their teachers first were taught cut and paste skills, and in 2001 created their first web pages. On a national basis, teacher training has been a minimal priority under the presumption that Internet access alone would produce the hoped for benefits. The Internet the majority of schools now enjoy is often 90% wasted as teachers receive one day per year training or less, and minimal technical support and no ongoing training.

On a Montana reservation, T1 lines and hundreds of computers have been installed for years, but workshops training teachers end in frustration as a full third of the computers crashed with the attempt to lead a group in creating the simplest of web pages. Who is responsible for what remains unresolved, year after year.

Lusk, WY hit the national news in early nineties as "Small Town Makes Good; Installing high speed Internet." More recently the truth comes out that no one ever learned how to benefit from such infrastructure. Now, they are trying again, this time to attract companies who will train the locals, and perhaps create call centers.

While there are 100,000 call centers in the US, the six largest telemarketing firms have moved their operations to India where 50,000 English-speakers are learning to speak with an American accent for THEIR booming economic development call centers. Whatever 'first to market' opportunity that being first to have Internet brought to America's rural communities has been largely ignored. New satellite and wireless technology will soon empower thousands of competitive communities internationally.

Cisco System's "Are you ready?" commercials suggest they know what community applications the 99% of us who won't be Cisco Academy technicians should learn, but they don't, and THEY are not ready to address these promised benefits. Cisco systems sell briskly with their promotion of fear, uncertainty and doubt to niave non-technical community leaders.

AOL's slogan on the front of their office buildings ends with 'and more valuable uses," regarding their stated goals for bringing benefits of Internet use to America. Yet their millions spent on advertising promote the impression the Internet is a chat and shopping entertainment system, with no mention of self-empowerment possibilities.

What to Do?

How many hours a day must each community member sit at a computer to realize these projected benefits? What do we all need to know how to do on the Internet, and what do only a few of us need to know how to do?

How quickly can we learn what we don't know we need to know about all this? Where is the best available fast-track training? Does it exist?

The Web has been around since 1994. Where are the best implementation strategies which deliver the greatest benefits in the least amount of time? Where are the many communities who have realized sustainable empowerment via Internet?

Fast track is viable, but requires the vision, will/commitment and training with end assessments to validate who contributed to the interaction and what skills and outcomes resulted. Fast-track empowerment programs need to be demonstrated which involve as many community members as possible, using Internet to support the needs of others.

Human bandwidth is measured by the numbers of citizens participating, their level of caring, and the value of the specific skills and information they have gathered to meet the specific needs of others in their community.

Volume bandwidth is measured by the speed and volume of information transmitted via the technical infrastructure.

Most of us are already overwhelmed with too much information, and not enough of the specific information that we really need; that which can make a real difference and improve our lives. Since no one can keep up with the burgeoning amount of information, new levels of serious collaboration are needed.

Community is the sum of what we give to each other.

Community is those to which we give our time.

If current low speed Internet is under utilized, how can we expect faster Internet be any different? We're already overwhelmed by too much information. Will our vision or capacity increase 1000 times with the speed of faster Internet? Has the missed promise of benefits from dial-up Internet been replaced with promises that faster Internet will finally deliver these promised benefits? How so?

There are hard questions that need to be asked, based on what we've learned from past failures to realize the highest levels of potential community benefits of Internet. To move forward we must begin with an accurate assessment of where we are and what we do and don't know.

Demonstration Pilots Needed in the Short Term

We need to work to bring top-down and bottom-up teams together to begin to generate authentic partnerships and authentic results, with emphasis on working closely with, and listening hard to, THEIR experience with empowerment trials and demonstration pilots.

We might consider our first challenge to be articulating an ideal scenario as to how who learned what and the specifics on how new behaviors apply new skills toward producing tangible benefits. And then test this ideal scenario by making it happen on a small scale in the short term as a demonstration pilot.

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