Preparing for the Digital Age

.“Oh my God. This is an embarrassment.” That’s how Sen. Warner described his reaction to recent congressional hearings with Mark Zuckerberg — characterized by odd, off-topic and ill-informed questions by lawmakers. He added: “Obviously some of my colleagues didn’t know how social media works, or what the business model is.”

Professor Erik P.M. Vermeulen writing in Medium.

Politicians at all levels of government — local, national and international — all struggle to adapt to the digital challenges. Rapid technological change makes it difficult to identify and agree on an appropriate regulatory framework. The result is that regulations often prohibit, or otherwise limit, the development of new technologies.

And as disruptive technologies facilitate new forms of “doing business,” debates around such regulatory constraints become more pressing. The recent Facebook hearings clearly show this. In the United States, the digital “knowledge gap” between politicians and business leaders became painfully apparent.

Our political “leaders” are blatantly ill-equipped to deal with the “new world” that is being created.

I see two significant problems for rural broadband in this leadership failure. One, it is hard to explain the rural digital divide to political leaders who have no appreciation or understanding of the digital age technology. Two, without access to broadband, rural citizens and business are unable to prepare for this “new world.” They are being left out, and the political leaders that could help them cannot grasp the need for critical broadband infrastructure.

If policymakers do not understand the technology and how it supports rural healthcare, education, commerce, economic development and entertainment how can they appreciate the needs of rural citizens who want to participate in this new digital world?

This lack of federal and state leadership is why local communities leaders, in and out of government, need to take control of the problem and find ways to bring this critical broadband infrastructure to their communities. Waiting for big government, or the big telcos, to bring broadband to rural communities is not an effective strategy. It will not happen until local leaders provide the energy to organize, to develop a plan, and find the funds to build the required infrastructure. 

Community leaders need to create the local political mussel to get their needs recognized at state and federal levels so they can compete when broadband funds are allocated at these levels. Counties, cities, towns, and villages that have a plan in place will have an advantage when funds become available.

I spend twenty years in the Air Force and sixteen years as a civilian government contractor responsible for business development. 

In my Air Force flying career, I was fortunate to have a Wing staff job earlier than most electronics warfare officers.  My desk was opposite Chief Master Sargent Lucy’s desk.  Near the end of September, an HQ clerk came to our office alerting us to a meeting in two hours on how the Wing should spend a year-end budget surplus.  Staff officers all started scrambling about thinking up viable projects for the money. SMSgt Lucy reached into the bottom drawer of his desk and pull out a stack of approved, but unfunded projects, and headed for the Procurement Office.  He was first in line for the money.

He had a plan, develop affordable projects that had a reasonable funding requirement.  Almost every year there was a budget surplus, during the previous months he worked on getting his projects approved and ready to be funded.

When I retired from the Air Force, I joined TRW an aerospace company as a business developer, with an office at McClellan Air Force Base.   A  Division Chief’s I worked with was always complaining about the lack of funding for his projects. I told him SMSgt Lucy’s story, and suggest he use the same strategy.  It worked. I developed a multi-year business relationship with this Division, which found a way to fund projects and TRW contracts.

Counties, cities, towns, and villages need to develop a similar strategy, develop a broadband plan, get the community behind the program, raise local money and be prepared to capture any state or federal funding that becomes available.  Keep a shovel-ready broadband plan in the bottom drawer of every project leaders desk.

You do not have a project leader — Get one, and get started.

HERE is how one small Idaho town solved the broadband problem.

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