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 almost half, if not 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?”

Expectations increase with experience” bears an important lesson – the more we learn - the more expansive become the possibilities we can begin to see - and it must be recognized that this is an ongoing process. Those who succeed getting started on this learning journey will find truly unlimited opportunities, but at issue is the hard fact that most of us have not yet found that first spark of guidance needed to create the motivation to begin to learn what’s possible.


When Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone he had very specific ideas on how it would be used – to listen to opera. But, as citizens got involved they reinvented the applications. Citizens will reinvent Internet applications and we need to learn how best to facilitate such innovation on a mass scale. While the telephone took 25 years to become commonplace we can’t afford to wait that long for Internet benefits to be realized.

From an Individual’s Viewpoint, the question might be “What in it for me?” The Internet provides for meeting specific information needs at any time and engaging communities of interest, locally and globally, without restriction. Whether local interaction or capacity building is important depends on a given individual’s commitment to their local geographical community.

“Lone Eagles” are those who have learned to learn anything they need at anytime and as a result have learned how they can live and work anywhere. Such profound freedom has historically never been as available to the global populace as it is today, but...

A conceptual transformation must accompany development of the essential Internet skills to create truly global citizens.

Transformational Insights are:

- To know one can find and learn nearly anything, anytime.

- To know one can gather and share the best resources globally and to create
  original resources to make a difference in the lives of others.

- To know how to collaborate with individuals and groups to work toward
   concerted action for any purpose.

- To know that the possibilities for what one person can achieve are truly

From a Community Viewpoint, the question might be “Why should we care about community networking?” Every community is actually a community of communities of interest. Local capacity building of social and economic sustainability may be a priority for a few select leaders, but it really depends on the cohesiveness of the citizenry jointly recognizing how they can use the Internet effectively for:

-  accessing information ----->collectively gathering and sharing knowledge
- communicating ----->being heard and establishing a voice
- collaborating ------>working together more efficiently
- achieving visibility----->being noticed/having your efforts appreciated
- managing effectively----->bringing the best out of everyone – motivation(!)

From a National Government’s Viewpoint, the question might be “How can we stimulate learning and innovation, increase economic and social value, sustain infrastructure costs, and lower the cost of providing government services while increasing efficiency?” Historically governments have legislated laws, but rarely the motivation to innovate. Today, national competitiveness increasingly depends on the latter. The new global gold rush is literally based on mining raw human potential using new communications tools.

From the International Development Viewpoint, the questions include all of the above. Historical barriers to unlimited learning no longer are tied to traditional economic models. Anyone can learn anything anytime from anywhere, and anyone can teach anyone, anytime from anywhere. Self-defined groups can collaborate in proportion to the level their skills and motivation allow them to do so. Transnational activism means issues such as global warming and human rights can transcend national boundaries as foci for collaborative action. For example, over two thousand global cause-related sites are listed in a directory at

The Emerging Knowledge-based Economy has Infinite Growth Potential
Unlike a product-based economy where supply and demand are tightly related, a knowledge economy can grow without limitation based on individuals’ motivation to learn, learn-to-earn, and to spend (particularly on knowledge products.) Creation of knowledge (media) products are limited only by our imagination and skills, not by finite natural resources. The big picture here is the opportunity for a major reduction in poverty on a global scale IF we can learn to work together to unlock our joint human potential.

Vision Validation and Readiness to Learn to Change (A Case Study Example)
Five years ago, (1998) I presented a series of the very first Internet workshops for 11 remote Alaskan Native villages. Since I’d been teaching online courses for educators for ten years, I was excited to have the opportunity to share my rather well-developed vision based on over a decade of extensive opportunities to learn about online learning, community networking, and cultural empowerment. But without top-down validation of the value of what I’d brought to share - my workshops were denigrated to casual instruction of students instead of high level instruction of the village educators and community.

The Lack of Shared Vision and Coordination of all concerned literally defined the limits of what they were ready to accept and I found I was unable to lend my wings despite being quite prepared to do so. Lacking was a vision shared by the distant school district administrators, local school administrators, local educators, local students, and the local community. One shot workshops, presentations and keynotes cannot replace genuine commitment, planning, and partnerships.

Leadership by example is all too rare and typically determines success or the lack of success.
It is an open question
as to who is closest to being able to define a fully developed solution among academics, corporations, government planners, community leaders, and grassroots champions. There are those who are actually living the potential and those theorizing and advocating the potential for others but who don’t wish to participate directly themselves. In the U.S. T1 Internet lines were installed in most schools as the new desired status quo, but few school districts provided adequate training for teachers and the resulting level of potential beneficial applications was minimal as a result. Many school administrators still refuse to use a computer and require their secretaries to print their emails.

Perception and Attitudes Determine the Motivation to Learn.
In the Alaskan villages today, only limited and very gradual progress has been achieved despite five years of fingertip access to a world of new opportunities that historically never before existed in these remote villages. Top down validation is necessary for people to take notice that something important is at hand. Individual role models and community success stories are necessary for the required cultural shift to occur. An evangelism role highlighting the profound yet unrecognized potential is needed. There is currently a very serious leadership void.

Serious Indigenous Empowerment Issues
Alaskan villages historically were one of the most self-sufficient cultures in the world. Three generations of welfare support has significantly weakened the historical and cultural trait of self-sufficiency – creating yet another tier of human challenges. The dominant society’s schools, teachings, and technologies still meet with resistance. What is needed is a truly indigenous voice within each culture speaking to the cultural sovereignty potential the Internet makes possible. Indigenous communities cannot be presumed to desire access or to benefit from such access. Indigenous communities need to learn what’s possible via such access and assess for themselves the potential benefits from wise applications as well as the serious cultural risks from culturally inappropriate applications.  More at

Traditional Barriers
Many aspects of our dilemma are tied to our traditional patterns of thinking and behavior regarding what used to work for economic development, K12 and higher education, and government at all levels. Traditional priorities have been to be successful receiving government funding for our specific organizations, agencies and institutions. We need to quickly create a new culture of innovation and new behavioral norms based on the realities of accelerating and ongoing change.

Who Will Teach Us? Can We Learn to “Do for Ourselves?”
Given Internet access, and facing a global shortage of teachers, how can people learn quickly and in an appropriate cultural context? Peer mentoring and online instruction may well hold the answers - IF people can come together around a shared vision and develop a proven common sense methodology for helping one another.

Those communities first to show true widespread participation realizing tangible benefits may well enjoy a cottage industry for decades to come teaching other communities how to replicate their success, online.  We’re waiting for the first compelling community success stories to inspire us all to take action. It is just a matter of who and when.


Tom Sawyerism
A new role model validating the emerging ideal status quo is needed for rural communities. When compelling stories can be told about communities “bootstrapping” their own solutions producing real results based on practical applications without being tied to a government handout, then the real potential of the Internet will begin to be understood. For lack of a better term, “Tom Sawyerism” refers to the dynamic that while many rural communities will refuse to be the first to innovate, they can easily be compelled to do so in a spirit of competition with their neighbors. Peering over the back fence at other rural communities succeeding creates new positive dynamics to encourage innovation, particularly if a template for action is available. A meaningful partnership among pioneering frontier communities to share innovations, resources, and storytelling, needs to be created as part of the cultural shift required for their survival.


What’s the Best True Story We Can Invent Together?

Rural attitudes often are against change as change can mean things can get even worse. Ironically, today things are indeed bad enough that readiness to change is being reconsidered. Motivating stories of those who are doing better as a result of having changed are necessary. We can even begin to create the stories we’d like to tell, as specific templates for coordinated action. While they might not yet be true, if we had a plan to create a success story, rallied and decided to make it happen – we could! For example, Alice Springs, Australia could author a press release on its “web-raisings” to be released in just a few short months. What’s the best true story we could tell if everyone were on board??

We’re literally facing the challenges of homesteading a whole new frontier, not just economically, but of an economy of ideas and unprecedented opportunities for positive global social change in the short term.

Celebrating Our Own Pioneers
Rural attitudes tend to shun innovators, particularly regarding technology, instead of celebrate them. Why didn’t the most elegant Internet application examples quickly emerge from our most remote communities, once they attained access? In fact, they did! We just ignored them. In most rural communities innovative individuals have proved over and over again that the Internet can indeed allow those with a vision to live and work anywhere. Most communities, however, don’t yet bother to list local Ecommerce businesses to validate replicable business models or local talents to validate locally available expertise. It is past time that we identify and celebrate these early pioneers in all our rural communities and tell their stories, consolidate what works, and learn how to best motivate the “rest of us.”

Where do we start? Well, with a good success story, of course. Jackson, Montana, Pop. 48 has one of the highest levels of computer and Internet use in Montana thanks to Judi Halazon’s years of showing ranchhands, sheepherders, quilters and outfitters what you can really do with a computer on the Internet. The smaller the community, the greater the opportunities for short term major positive change and storytelling. A community can begin with as few as 10-20 committed participants.

Digital photo slideshows can be one simple means for such storytelling as demonstrated at  where you can see Judi’s pictures. More traditional text-based storytelling is demonstrated in “The Good Neighbor’s Guide to Community Networking,” particularly in the first two chapters at (Judi tells her story in Chapter Two.)

Friendly storytelling competitions can include many multi-media formats to create a body of evidence on what’s working to inspire others worldwide. Competition examples with an emphasis on youth are at

Measurements Define Success
Motivation and readiness to learn and change are fundamental to producing the hoped for measurable outcomes. Measurements are necessary for community readiness to learn, community potential and a genuine progress index.

Measurable Visible Outcomes is an Emerging Theme
A four state strategy in the U.S. is developing a community readiness index, vitality index, and potential index to assess the best initial investments. In Canada there is an emerging “Genuine Progress Index” model evolving  .

Australia has a matrix based on priority services to hub communities positioned to service further outlying communities but the measures of success are yet to be determined. Details available at  click on the link to Telecommunications, then Indigenous Communications, then Reports, for the TAPRIC “Telecommunications Action Plan for Remote Indigenous Communities.”,,0_1-2_3-4_104432,00.html (Direct Link)

Canada's community access program (CAP) has brought Internet access and community technology centers to 8,000 rural communities and now is reviewing the goals for the next funding cycle regarding measurable outcomes from actual usage. Details at
Select programs and resources for the following.

Fundamental to CAP projects is computer and Internet training, as well as Internet access for community members. Full-service CAP projects offer a combination of the following:

Access to the Internet for community members
Your Community On-line
Web Page and E-mail Hosting
Government Services
Youth Opportunities

CAP Ecommerce Successes and Resources
Community storefronts marketplace
Ecommerce success stories listed by providence and category
Ecommerce in Canada - resource links page
Online learning links

Curiously, Canada has two other major and incredibly significant parallel initiatives in addition to the CAP program. CANARIE and the Community Learning program  A rural broadband report is also available at

Where To Focus
Can we learn to measure a community’s spirit, fortitude or ability to innovate collectively? Is the innovation rate of a community independent of available bandwidth? Can the collaborative capacity of a community be measured against the peer mentoring dynamic to facilitate overall community learning and ongoing skill development? Generosity in content gathering and sharing and other related dynamics can be demonstrated via storytelling to attract media attention and to inspire other communities regarding the benefits of changing local collaborative norms.

Maintaining Each Community’s Ongoing Self-Assessment Measures
in a Graphical Display on the Web and at the Center

It would be very powerful to have the top seven indicators of authentic community participation for each participating community viewable in a simple graphical display both on the web and at each center as an ongoing self-assessment weighed against the progress of peer communities. The spirit of friendly competition between communities is already a cultural reality. Here are suggestions for the seven most important indicators of success for widespread citizen participation. Each community would decide for themselves which measures they will use to define their success.

1.      The number of participating citizens with Email capabilities

2.      The number of participating citizens with searching skills

3.      The number of participating citizens hosting simple resource web pages

4.      The number of participating citizens volunteering as online mentors

5.      The number of local Ecommerce web pages

6.      The names and number of contributing businesses and community organizations

7.      The number of community events and the names of the sponsoring organizations


Lone Eagle Consulting’s Best Suggestions

The following is summarized from a pilot project implementation proposal submitted to the U.S. Department of Commerce Technology Opportunities Program (TOP) presented as a replicable plan which includes assisting all rural communities in taking “The Ten First Steps for Rural Community Ecommerce and Telework Preparedness.”  

History will validate that citizen engagement and measurable outcomes proved necessary in determining the direction forward.

The Ten First Steps for
Rural Community Ecommerce and Telework Preparedness

Taking the First Step
Implementation of the following “Ten First Steps” will create a low-cost, high-value, visible, community-learning “bootstrap” program implementing advanced telecommunications applications. The “Ten First Steps” solutions are presented below with a brief explanation of each step. The first three steps involve the initial creation of the Ecommerce Center and Emall. Steps four through nine are flexible, ongoing community involvement skills and web content development strategies.  Step ten serves as a community celebration of achievements and a community self-assessment in preparation for the next cycle of more advanced applications. (Further detail on the Ten First Steps can be found at with the full narrative minus appendices at An expanded version of the narrative written for general readers is at )

Step 1.  Create an Ecommerce and Telework (EAT) Center Storefront.  Vacant storefronts are a common site in most economically depressed communities.  Utilizing such a space in the middle of town, a center will be established.  This Ecommerce and Telework center will be a combination Community Technology Outreach Center, Ecommerce/Fulfillment center, and Kinko’s-style community cooperative service center.

Step 2.  Hold a Major Presentation Event to Announce the Purpose and Goals of the Center and Project.  Working in cooperation with local sponsors, an event will be held showcasing the center, articulating the community’s mission for this center, the outreach engagement goals, and the planned development of new services. Advertising for the event will include local newspapers, radio, and other media.  Local sponsors will assist in distributing fliers and in making personal telephone calls to their neighbors about this important first event. A videotape of the presentation will be available for those unable to attend.

Step 3.  Launch an E-mall as the Local Web Community Content Resource for E-businesses and Collaboration.  A web mall will be created and will provide existing and emerging new businesses the opportunity to get on the web quickly using web templates and/or low-cost Ecommerce store builder services.  Demonstration Ecommerce websites will be created to showcase the benefits of a local E-mall with the intention to continually build local content until the majority of the community is reflected in the online content in some way.  With the addition of collaborative software and throughout steps 4-10, which will facilitate online collaborative use by the community, a functional community network will model the process of producing social as well as economic value. 

Step 4.  Hold a Skills Drive to Create a Mentorship Roster.  A community skills assessment will connect those within the community who have skills they are willing to share with those needing mentoring to gain new skills.  Having three distant communities in the project will be especially beneficial here as mentoring can be done online between communities. 

Step 5.  Hold a Multimedia Fair for Local Champions to Demonstrate New Technologies and Applications and to Create a Series of Locally Driven Workshops.  This is an opportunity to generate new learning relationships and for-profit services by having local citizens showcase their talents and skills to raise community awareness regarding advanced computer and telecommunications applications and to market their skills and new services locally. 

Step 6.  Create Local Online Newsletters as an Incentive for Collaboration. Each community will maintain a local online newsletter as an ongoing self-evaluation mechanism for the community to monitor its own progress throughout the project’s timeline. The other participating communities, as well as the external evaluator, and the whole world, will be able to also monitor each community’s progress – serving as an added incentive for community involvement.

Step 7.  Create Teleworker Portfolios as an Incentive to Mentor and to Develop New For-Profit Services.  Incentives for sustained peer mentoring will include the offer of advanced Teleworker training to include creation of an electronic portfolio resume documenting successful online mentoring and collaboration skills. Viable for-profit online services will be identified and wherever possible implemented as real businesses promoted through this project.

Step 8.  Create an E-business Incubator at the Ecommerce and Teleworker Center.  The Center will serve as a place for people to access computers, Internet, phones, UPS, marketing, business expertise, and multiple services to help them get their businesses started.

Step 9.  E-Market the Community and Its New Ecommerce Businesses.  Using all the marketing skills and services of the regional Small Business Development Centers, a priority will be collaborative E-marketing of local businesses, emerging new businesses, the skills of local citizens, and the community as a whole.

Step 10.  Hold a Celebration Showcasing Achievements.  All achievements will be recognized and reported through local and national media with a special celebration event planned after the first 18 months of the project to honor the contributions of citizens and the visible outcomes generated by their direct involvement.