We know it’s tough right now.
Kids are struggling with internet access for remote learning, adults are having difficulty connecting for telework or telehealth appointments, and businesses need broadband immediately to survive.
It is tough—really tough.
But, especially so, for local community leaders who must wear multiple hats and try to solve the connectivity problem for everyone.
“Most of us are a bit overwhelmed and getting caught up with back-to-back-to-back video calls,” said Tom Stephenson, Community Technology Advisor, Connected Nation. “On more than one occasion, I’ve been on a regional or community call when one of the leaders forgets which meeting they are in and starts discussing a totally different subject matter out of the blue. They forget what group they are talking to simply because they’re juggling so much.”
For every community—whether urban or rural—ensuring internet connectivity for everyone is a challenge many local leaders have been chipping away at for years. However, when the pandemic forced most of us home, there was an urgency placed on finding ways to connect more families, businesses, and community organizations as soon as possible.
“That pressure to find solutions immediately was felt by leaders at all levels—from state and federal to local,” said Chris Pedersen, Executive Vice President, Connected Nation. “Just about every community faced some sort of internet connectivity challenge once the pandemic hit. Many of those issues were already there but the sudden and immediate need for improving infrastructure or finding internet solutions for vulnerable populations was brought to the forefront.
“It was so much at once that it has been a difficult road for some communities. But there are ways to tackle those short-term needs while planning for the long term.”
It’s a statement that comes from experience. Connected Nation, through its Connected Community Engagement Program, has worked with nearly 400 communities and surveyed more than 30,000 individuals nationwide to do one thing—develop Technology Action Plans that are specific to a community or region’s needs.
In the first month of the pandemic closures, Connected Nation published two free connectivity plans and resource bundles, one tailored for state leaders and another for community leaders. The national nonprofit understood that many leaders were struggling and needed direction. These plans provided that. (Both response plans are still available for free at connectednation.org/coronavirus).
“We often find communities are desperately trying to solve their internet connectivity problems—whether it’s the need for improved speeds or simply expanding access—by biting off everything at once,” said Eric Frederick, Vice President, Community Affairs, Connected Nation. “However, if they take a step back and really assess the landscape by developing a plan then they’ll be in better shape. Our nonprofit has been working to expand access to more people for nearly two decades. Because of that experience, we can point leaders to immediate solutions to help fill the connectivity gap while they develop a long-term plan.”
The Connected program’s Technology Action Plans leverage input and data provided by residents, businesses, community organizations, and others to identify problem areas and solutions for expanding high-speed internet (broadband) access a community, county, or region.
The program provides a way for local elected officials and community stakeholders in healthcare, education, business, and more to work together and chart a course for accelerating the expansion of high-speed internet access.
“We work directly with local stakeholders to help them build a path toward better connectivity” said Pedersen, “we help with the building blocks for improving internet access, adoption, and use – so they can ultimately overcome being overwhelmed.”
This work is not just about addressing the current needs of a community or region. It is also about focusing on sustained growth and ensuring an area remains vibrant long after the initial plans are implemented.
“Companies are going to go where they know people have access to the internet and understand how to use it,” said Paul Griffith, Executive Director, Michigan Works! “It’s good for our schools, it attracts businesses, and it means our residents can stay here.”
Needs that have gotten more substantial since the coronavirus pandemic hit. For many trying to solve these issues they too are dealing with their own connectivity challenges while trying to remain safe making navigating the demands of their communities even more taxing.
“A public safety official that our team is working with in Lapeer County, Michigan, described what we’re all going through best. She called it “CMB” which stands for ‘Covid Mush Brain,’” said Dan Manning, Community Technology Advisor, Connected Nation. “I think the lesson here is to keep your sense of humor and find even more effectives ways to work together during these confusing and often stressful times.”
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