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What exactly IS Broadband, and Why should I care?


by Frank Odasz, Lone Eagle Consulting

In 1867, when the first transatlantic telegraph line was completed evangelical sermons were given on the historic importance of humankind being now capable of keeping each other up to the “same instant of progress.” Such visions are not new. In 1910, promoting the new technology called the “telephone,” the statement was made “with each new user the power of the network becomes even more powerful.” The potential of everyone using information and communications technologies (ICTs) to contribute to the benefit of all has been considered the most common sense application, without question.

In 2009, the volume of innovation focused on ICT’s is growing exponentially, and an increasing volume of these innovations is coming from the bottom up, from those who were previously without the education and tools, and are now enabled with fingertip access to the world’s knowledge base and growing collaborative opportunities. New strategies are needed to broadly disseminate the best of these innovations as they occur, and on an ongoing basis as the evolution of technologies and best practices continues to accelerate.

What IS Broadband?
Broadband is a very general term referring to fast Internet access. Just how fast the term “broadband” refers to depends on the details of a particular situation and has been something that keeps changing as the technology improves. If you can view videos without their stopping and starting and can enjoy 2-way video and audio phone conversations without interruption, then you may have “decent” broadband, if you can’t, then it is debatable whether you have “real” broadband at all.

By The Numbers.

20 years ago.
In the mid 1980’s long distance tolls were $18/hour and a 24kb (24000 characters per second) modem could transmit 3-5 pages of text per minute and images were generally not exchanged at all. It was illegal to get online via party lines. Yet, many of Montana’s one-room schools were cost effectively exchanging lessonplans via Dillon’s Big Sky Telegraph

10 years ago

When dial-up Internet first became available and the World Wide Web appeared, 28kb (28,000 characters per second) was about the fastest you could hope for, and web pages often took a minute or minutes to load. The speed of dialup modems has increased to around 50kb today, though too many phone lines are capable of only 28kb. DSL is ten times the speed of dialup and is available over some phonelines (in town only). Many cable systems offer 8 megabit (8 million characters per second).  Wireless technologies are evolving rapidly, but also slow down when the neighbor’s kids are downloading videos. When neighbors are also sharing your connection, via DSL, wireless, or cable, the speed slows down, so whether these are always providing “broadband“  can be debatable. When speeds are described as “up to 8 megabits” it generally means: “only when no one else is sharing your access.”  Fiber optics can be super, super fast depending on the specific technologies. The statewide supercomputer lines – well, will be far faster yet.

Like the highways of yesteryear, these high speed lines will define which communities grow and which communities do not. Fingertip access to an increasingly interconnected global information society and economy is not something that can be ignored in this time of global economic crisis. Such access will transform our opportunities for making the living we want living wherever we want.

Slow, Medium, and Fast Broadband Entrepreneurial Opportunities

If all you have is a slow dialup connection, or a satellite connection that won’t allow realtime interaction, there are still many viable entrepreneurial opportunities. You can buy and sell on eBay along with 250 million others in over 35 countries. You can maintain an ecommerce web site at eBay, Amazon, or a thousand other service providers such that potential customers can interact via fast Internet links with your site, regardless of the speed of your access maintaining the site.  Teleworkers can download work to be performed at home, and upload their finished work.

If you really need live uninterrupted 2-way video, or audio, or to be able to deliver realtime “live” presentations, then you need fast Internet access. DSL is in the middle, faster but often not reliable enough for real time communications.

At the 2007, at the Butte, Montana, Economic Summit, hosted by Senator Max Baucus, nearly every keynoter (Ben Berneke, Bill Gates, Greg Gianforte,) commented that “Now that rural Montanans can live and work anywhere it will transform their opportunities.”  But, no sources for training or advocacy for these great sounding opportunities were identified.  We may be facing a generational barrier here.

Dillon, Montana Receives Fiber Optics
Now that regional cable providers have brought fiber optics to the Beaverhead County Courthouse, will this extremely fast Internet access provide for new economic development opportunities? It is a question of whether we have education on broadband training best practices available for our K12 students, the first digital generation, and for our existing businesses, and at our Universities, and most pointedly - for those of us who don’t know about any of this but would like to know whether suitable genuine entrepreneurial opportunities might actually exist.

What’s the best Dillon could do for itself with vision and extremely fast access? That’s the question posed in a formal proposal submitted by Headwaters Resource Conservation & Development to the Big Sky Trust Fund to find answers for sustainable rural families in partnership with Montana’s first supercomputer.  

Montana’s Supercomputer Business Incubator
Launched January, 2009, the Rocky Mountain Supercomputer Centers, INC. (RMSC ) is a unique public-private partnership business model supported by IBM to directly support business incubation and "flatten" the playing field for entrepreneurs and small-to-medium sized business. RMSC itself is not strictly a business incubator though. RMSC allows public and private business incubators and regional “Centers of Excellence” (COE’s) to leverage the RMSC and COEs capabilities to drive job growth, competitive advantage and economic impact. New “on-demand” services are under development.

Having signed an MOU with RMSC, the Dillon Center for Broadband Excellence http://lone-eagles.com/excellence.htm  will address creating a virtual business incubator focusing on the successive levels of training and entreprenenurship reflecting best practices utilizing the successive levels of Internet connectivity available to rural Montanans. Attention needs to be given to what Montanans are regarding their understanding and skills levels, and to provide a mastery learning step-by-step pathway forward so everyone can eventually participate meaningfully in the global information society and economy, regardless of geographical location.

Local Boy Makes Good
On loan from IBM to help Montana’s supercomputer get started and to establish regional Centers of Excellence, is one of their top supercomputer experts who has traveled the world. And he’s one of us! Earl Dodd was born in Dillon, and he and the Governor, and Montana Department of Commerce, and Senator Tester’s office and the Beaverhead County commissioners and many others are supporting Montana’s first supercomputer, because “It is the right thing to do.” 

Earl’s mission, and that of the Dillon Center of Broadband Excellence, is to allow youth to realize high-paying high tech jobs without having to leave the state as he did. Exporting our youth has caused a serious brain drain across Montana’s 550 struggling rural communities.

Dillon has a long history of grassroots innovation: http://lone-eagles.com/dillon.htm and in 1902 was the nation’s 2nd greatest exporter of draft horses due to the railroad coming right through town.  The vision for the future is a high technology corridor using the supercomputing “Lambda Rail.“

All Aboard!!




Why Broadband? What’s in it for me?

Have you ever heard an older person say: “I don’t know how to turn on a computer and I don’t intend to learn. I can’t type and I don’t feel comfortable with technology.” “I have yet to see good reasons why I’d want to pay for a home computer and broadband connection. I don’t see the value.”

The realities of rural innovation diffusion are complex. The paradigm shift involves shifting from avoiding change as a strategy to avoid risk (if it works, don’t fix it) to embracing change (adapt or die) as today’s best risk avoidance strategy. Addressing the responsibility of citizens and communities to embrace the potential of broadband is fundamental to our success as a nation, but how to do this cost effectively, exciting the collective imagination of Americans at all levels, is our challenge.


"We must take change by the hand or rest assuredly, change will take us by the throat."


— Winston Churchill, former British prime minister


We all need to learn to effectively collaborate to gather and share genuine Broadband Training Best Practices as they continually change and evolve. In question is “What is the best fast-track education possible to allow citizens and communities to most quickly realize the promise of broadband in visible, tangible terms?”  

In an interconnected world, the barriers are blurring between government, corporations, education, and other institutions.  There are very positive cost-saving synergies which have yet to be defined - and that's our opportunity. Authenticity of citizen engagement, and motivation, is fundamentally necessary, and America could be first to market with local, regional, and national actionable strategies. A new form of E-learning-for-all along with sustained visionary leadership focused on specific action strategies will be required. Too few community education programs exist to address Elearning-for-all despite investments in higher education, K12, and economic dev. agencies.

Broadband Training Best Practices

If billions are to be spent on rural broadband, one would hope everyone would become quickly aware of how to leverage this major national investment with true broadband training best practices designed to produce ideal measurable outcomes. Identifying how to engage and motivate the most citizens and arm them with the best training suitable to the most people requiring the least time, energy, and money is not so easy in a time of accelerating change. But our success as a nation known for innovation, and rallying to do what needs to be done, will have everything to do with whether we realize an adequate return on our huge national investment. How much money will be wasted without a “best-most-least” fast-track training with outcomes strategy?

We can be educating all citizens right away such that once fast broadband access arrives they are ready to put it to work. Using television to provide ecommerce and telework success stories can reach the broadest audience immediately. Providing targeted online videos, web tours, and upskilling hands-on activities making good use of existing Internet connections, regardless of speed.

America’s Historic Challenge to Fund Mass Innovation

http://lone-eagles.com/getitright.htm  Public Input to NTIA/BTOP and USDA/RUS


The FCC has posted broadband training best practices http://lone-eagles.com/best.htm on their www.fcc.gov/indians site (listed as Examples of Broadband Training Best Practices) in their Internet Resources listing: http://www.fcc.gov/indians/internetresources/  

Broadband and Value Bandwidth

Bandwidth is another term related to internet speeds. But instead of presuming volumes of data will meet specific local needs, perhaps we need to think about "value" bandwidth, not simply volume bandwidth. Information condenses to knowledge which condenses to wisdom and “Value” is created in an age of information overload. Less is More – “Value” bandwidth means meeting practical daily specific needs is more important than access to the library of congress. Just-in-time, inquiry-based, mutual support local networks can scale to connect all citizens, even without immediate broadband access.

Human Bandwidth

Let us acknowledge than many in the older generations may not want to blog, wiki, and podcast, twitter, tweet, or twirl. Those who say they don’t know how to turn a computer on and don’t intend to learn – will need human assistance, local infobrokers, helping them connect with whatever resources can meet their daily needs. Certainly those elders who have chosen to learn to be information literate, can be paid by the government to assist in the info-mentoring of their less adventurous peers. Earning their health insurance premiums via part-time telework would be an incentive for many, and would meet the government’s need to “connect” all citizens with value bandwidth using human bandwidth.

Rural innovation diffusion requires hand-holding until each citizen finds the confidence and the relevance to accept their own potential benefits from a home computer and fingertip access to the world’s knowledge base. For each individual there is a flashpoint of insight based on individual interests. Whether it is photos of the grandkids, stock cars, or golf tips, everyone will find something that helps them justify, “Why Broadband.”  That said, there will always be those more skilled than ourselves, frequently those far younger, as well. If we all share what we know, we’ll all have access to all our knowledge.

This is called “community” and it is built by engagement and intent. Big Point: The essential power for socio-economic capacity building comes from the exponential benefits of widespread collaboration, not simply from infrastructure.  Making these essential human connections will prove necessary for our human family to deal with the current global crisis. Those with skills can mentor those without skills – raising everyone’s awareness on the ease and importance of E-learning, social networking and collabor-ACTION best practices to keep everyone up to the same instant of progress in a world of accelerating change.

One solid rural community success story could do wonders for creating demand for broadband. Could it be that too many communities already enabled with broadband - are secretly embarrassed that they don't know how to use it to create economic opportunity?

Tell me a story of a small town which embraced the promise of broadband, created widespread awareness and inspired local innovation. A town which took local action, and bootstrapped local services to produce effective websites for existing businesses stimulating outreach to global markets. Tell me a story where local experts were identified and enlisted as those who know how – to teach those who need help - learning how. 


Tell me about how local youth were supported and tasked with searching out the best working innovations for other rural communities to bring these innovations home to fuel the home fires of local innovation. Tell me about people who cared enough to imagine a new future and what “could be” and who educated themselves, and then encouraged and educated others. If our choice is the rise of the creative class or small town mindedness, show me the group photo of smiling faces of success.


If such success stories already exist, we need to identify and celebrate them, if they do now, then we need to get busy and create them along with smart support systems offering local action plans.


How smart is your rural community?
Take the six question quiz: http://lone-eagles.com/smart.htm  Review the smart community websites.


Dillon, Montana, population 4000, has a long history of grassroots innovation:  See our stories at http://lone-eagles.com/dillon.htm  In 1902, Dillon was the nation’s 2nd greatest exporter of draft horses due to the railroad coming right through town. 


Americans share the opportunity to rebrand the what, the how, and the why, of broadband, of community networking and E-learning-for-all, using new terms and methodologies to inform, engage, educate, and provide recognition for genuine participation creating measurable outcomes at all levels.  Rural Americans need a new attitude toward innovation.

How Optimism Promotes Entrepreneurship

Our joint human potential may well be locked in our capacity and willingness to share information and support one another. If we are all focused on ourselves only, it can never happen. Only by giving to others, locally and globally, can we receive the dramatic benefits. These are hard facts and scientifically provable, despite widespread disbelief from centuries of our fighting one another.

From a scientific perspective it is a fact that the cells in a newborns brain have weak interconnections and that intelligence grows as these connections are strengthened by outside stimulation, experience, and eventually, by focused self-actualization. Youth today experience thousands of hours of intense multimedia interaction that most adults never experienced growing up.

“We make a living by what we get, and make a life by what we give.” Winston Churchill

Consider our communities with citizens like cells in a brain. Our community intelligence is directly related to whether citizens share information, and engage in strengthening connections. Imagine brain cells with arms crossed refusing to share or accept new information from other cells. The result would be major intellectual impairment, and this is just what our communities are suffering without being aware of it. Our global evolutionary imperative is to learn to collaborate or suffer the consequences. As one human family, the “time of the we,” has arrived. This is a time for smaller houses and bigger lives.

Within five years, handheld iphone and blackberry units will be ready to receive the best short update videos to inform, inspire, and engage global citizens to participate in the same instant of progress. A trusted global information society must evolve, if a successful global economy is to succeed. Trust, collaboration, and common sense are requisite to successful economic activity.


Brokering solutions on an ongoing basis as the sheer volume of such innovations becomes increasingly unmanageable by individuals will be central to the emerging knowledge economy where there is a premium for products that deliver “What you didn’t know you needed to know” – on a regular basis and in summative form.


Now that anyone can now easily create instructional how-to online videos, (video captures) even without a camera using www.jingproject.com , a Peoples’ Open University model is already evolving based on peer content. Just search youtube for “tutorials” on any topic.


The roles of government, corporations and educational institutions are merging. Corporations are poised to lead with e-learning innovations while simultaneously conducting action research. Demonstrating social responsibility and modeling social entrepreneurship, the goal is “everyone both learner and teacher, both consumer and producer, all the time.”

New online opportunities learn are emerging, but a recent article cited the ratio of 54:1 Internet work-at-home scams to real opportunities. Anyone can sign up for a telework job at www.contractxchange.com  or see what others are doing at www.startupnation.com  or educate themselves via a free online video course at www.thirtydaychallenge.com