Government, Community, and Corporate Partnerships to Expand Broadband Access


Fast Forward New Mexico LogoWith shrinking budgets, providing increased access to the Internet and training for computer literacy can be particularly challenging for libraries and public computing centers. Elliot spoke with Alice Loy at the Global Center for Cultural Entrepreneurship, one of a group of recipients of grant funding from the Broadband Technology Opportunities Project (BTOP). The project is called Fast-Forward New Mexico (FFNM) and they're working with the New Mexico State Library in order to help spread broadband access and know-how through 17 different libraries to increasingly underserved and disenfranchised communities across the state.

Elliot wrote a post after his interview with her about how structural poverty plays a big role in keeping people in low-access communities away from opportunities and how the costs of that poverty in communities can actually make it more expensive for positive change to work and projects like this one to succeed.

Piggy backing on that post, one of the things I found most interesting about the discussion he had with Alice was the hope she saw at the possibilities (and realities) of connecting resources across communities to grow programs like this one funded by the BTOP grant. Even though some of these cross-community opportunities are just revealing themselves and not always a success, they demonstrate the creative ways to support access with limited staff, time, and expert "bandwidth," so to speak.

Despite the many challenges the program faces like hiring and training staff, finding enough laptops and locations with solid Internet access, and securing low-cost options for home-based Internet, Alice talked about one success that I'd like to highlight. The funding for this and other BTOP programs is from a federal stimulus grant, in order expand "broadband access and adoption in communities across America." But just doling out dough doesn't equal instant success, so organizations like Alice's have been working creatively to get over some of the barriers mentioned above by working with community partners and corporate entities, like Internet Service Providers, and local nonprofit community centers.

We've partnered with one ISP called Sacred Wind. They are run by a Navajo man and he provided, for example, a translator for Diné who is totally fluent in Diné and fluent in computer words, which you can imagine Navajo language doesn't have any. So they gave us her time for different trainings and they promised to do that again, and they've just been really wonderful in general.

Partnering with this local ISP has provided support for reaching out and training in Navajo communities, which would have otherwise been a huge challenge. Even though it's only one example, if corporate tech entities see the value in expanding their broadband-subscriber base, it can bring them new clientele, and it can help ensure that lower-income or hard-to-access communities get the support they need from community organizations to grow their tech expertise. It's a win-win.

Hopefully, more such partnerships between government-supported projects, run by community organizations (like local nonprofits and public libraries), can find community-minded corporate sponsors to help bring together more opportunities for growing broadband access in the communities that need it most.