Local governments are now eagerly discussing how to utilize information and communications technology (ICT) investment to advance their economic development plans. Topic awareness has increased, and yet total comprehension and plan execution is still a work in progress. Regardless, we’ve seen notable progress.
Back in 1997 I managed the public sector account teams for US West in the state of Arizona. It was my responsibility to understand and support the ICT needs and wants of our local government, education and public safety customers.
I was invited to attend a meeting where US West would request local council member support for a pilot of the first triple-play service offering in America. The company’s formal presentation focused on the digital TV aspects of the service. Frankly, the outcome was disappointing — there were lots of concerns from both elected and appointed city officials. The first pilot project stalled.
The Mayor and council members seemed indifferent at the prospect of “the phone company” entering the local pay-TV arena. It wasn’t that they didn’t appreciate new pay-TV competition in their market, but that it just wasn’t a pressing issue for the council to consider.
Applying a Proven Catalyst of Job Growth
Meanwhile, as I developed US West’s “Connecting Arizona” objectives, I found myself repeating the same fundamental context for our cause — “it’s about the interdependent relationship between telecommunications infrastructure investment, and sustainable community economic development.” That’s a mouthful. Therefore, I coined the term Economic TeleDevelopment to provide an identity to this phenomenon.
At the time, it was very useful to have a unique descriptive term that helped us re-state our intent for the launch of these VDSL-based triple-play offerings. We revisited the local city councils, and I presented our new focal point — delivering broadband access to the home’s of existing and budding SOHO businesses.
Tailored to the Phoenix, Arizona suburbs, this revised request was more compelling to local government leadership, “encourage US West to pilot new technology and infrastructure that will give your local home-based business owners a competitive edge.” It worked — the triple-play pilot projects were unanimously approved.
Furthermore, we were asked by community leaders to work more closely with their local economic development practitioners, and thereby explain how to fully leverage these new broadband assets. So, what’s changed during the last decade?
The Real Deal, from the Front Lines of America
Overall, the roles have somewhat reversed; local community demand is now driving this dialogue. Here’s a case in point. A recent U.S. market study and resulting report by Successful.com entitled “Broadband’s Impact on Economic Development: The Real Deal” profiles the evolving environment.
I believe the following points from the report are particularly noteworthy.
“There appears to be strong belief that broadband can improve local economies at the individual constituent level. 52% of respondents believe the technology can help harness home-based businesses into a strong economic development force, and 43% feel broadband can be used to influence underserved individuals to become entrepreneurs.
Support for some federal government goals is weak. Over 90% of those surveyed found government-recommended goals of 4 Mbps for rural areas inadequate for impacting economic development outcomes. Over 55% believe speeds of 100 Mbps (the FCC’s goal for 100 million mostly urban and suburban households) or more are needed, but within three years, not 10 as some Federal agencies support.”
Survey respondents were a representative cross-section of key stakeholders — 29% represent cities and towns, another 23% serve counties and 21% work for a region within their state. Almost 9% have responsibilities that cover the entire United States.
Respondents were encouraged to shared their current outlook. Perhaps this comment sums up the market reality, “Broadband is a necessity in our world today. Having it available to all communities — no matter how fast/slow — is an economic boost. The global economy isn’t stopping to allow those communities who don’t have broadband to catch up, they are running ahead and not looking back.” Enough said.