In the 19th century, with the invention of the telephone, a push for all homes in America to have one began.
In the 20th century, US Senator George Norris from Nebraska championed the cause to assure every home across the nation had electricity. In 1933 when he began that quest, only 5.9 percent of rural Nebraska had electricity.
In the 21st century, the goal is to provide access to broadband high speed Internet access and information technology to all, not only to homes and businesses, but to individuals as well. In the initial survey with a 47 percent response rate of return, 76 percent of households use broadband; nationally that number is 66 percent, while dial up is still reported at 5 percent both state and nationally.
All 50 states are working in different ways to assure that success. In Nebraska the goal of broadband for all is being met by the Nebraska Broadband Initiative. In fact, it is a model for others to follow.
2012 is the third year of a five year grant program known as the Nebraska Broadband Initiative (NBI) Partners in this include Nebraska Information Technology Commission, Nebraska Department of Economic Development, Nebraska Public Service Commission, University of Nebraska-Lincoln and the AIM Institute. UNL is the fiscal agent for the planning part of the $2,472,652 grant.
The NBI realizes broadband high speed internet is the foundation for economic growth, job creation and retention and global competitiveness. Its goals are to 1) increase adoption and utilization of broadband in all communities and regions with emphasis on unserved and underserved regions; 2) Work regionally in developing Broadband plans that increase adoption and utilization of broadband; 3) Increase understanding of importance of Broadband as a foundation of economic growth.
“The University of Nebraska-Lincoln representatives coordinate and manage the planning, adoption and utilization portions of the Nebraska Broadband Initiative. UNL Extension Educators serve as regional coaches for the initiative and facilitate technology planning, visioning and information technology sessions. Teams of volunteers across Nebraska are working to identify issues and develop plans for their areas ...” (Broadband.Nebraska.gov – Get Involved link) The state is divided into eight regions as well as tribal communities.
Thedford in Thomas County is where this writer calls home. It is one of 10 counties that comprise the New Frontier Region with Randy Saner, UNL-Ext. Educator with Lincoln-Logan- McPherson Extension office in North Platte, the region’s coach. The other counties include Arthur, Dawson, Grant, Hooker, Keith, McPherson, Lincoln, Logan and Perkins.
The NBI focuses on capacity building, that of gathering data and providing benchmarks; technical assistance which includes cross training and looking at future possibilities, and lastly, regional planning conversations for creating the visions of the future. This last focus is being completed in the New Frontier region by regional meetings recently conducted in Ogallala, Mullen, North Platte and Lexington.
At the Mullen meeting, held Nov. 19, Randy, with assistance from Connie Hancock and Charlotte Narjes asked feedback from attendees on their everyday use of broadband, the positive and negative aspects they encounter and what they see as the primary focus for the future of broadband accessibility. Connie is a UNL Extension Educator in Sidney, while Charlotte is the Manager of Special Projects for UNL.
There are four major providers of broadband in the New Frontier Region. Consolidated is the provider for all or portions of six of the 10 counties in the region. Attendees at Mullen were appreciative to Consolidated for providing the up to date broadband capabilities they do. They provide service ranging from basic internet (768K/384K) to lightnet at 20K. Dawn Mallory, administrator of the Pioneer Rest Home in Mullen is very grateful for the service Consolidated provides to not only her residents, but as an educator of online classes. “I was at a workshop four years ago where the comment was made that 10 percent of ‘sticks and bricks’ college students are leaving every year for the ‘clicks’ — meaning students are taking more online courses every year. As an online educator, I see that first hand, I have students as far away as Arizona.” She has introduced to her residents of the rest home a geriatric computer, which has larger fonts, keys etc., for their ease of use. She has residents teaching others how to use the computer. Dawn is beginning the use of Tele-Health, where residents do not need to go hundreds of miles away for their medical check-ups. None of these could be accomplished without broadband. Others at the meeting have spouses using it for home based businesses, and for paying bills online.
The primary need for broadband to be accessible for all varied between education and funding for such. Education must include basic computer 101 for those not yet having computers in their homes. Youth must be educated that they can get a secondary education somewhere and return to the Sandhills and make a business.
The time for communities to stand alone remains strictly in the sports arena. Rural communities must form regional cooperatives, work together to assure all residents have broadband access. At the end of the grant period Connie foresees “Having a plan for implementation where residents will take the innovation and creativity broadband provides and create a life for themselves and their families wherever they choose to live.” Hopefully they will choose to come back to their roots in the Sandhills. ❖