When incumbent providers cannot serve the broadband needs of some localities, local governments should be allowed--no, encouraged--to step up to the plate and ensure that their citizens are not left on the wrong side of the great divide. So it is regrettable that some states are considering, and even passing, legislation that could hinder local solutions to bring the benefits of broadband to their communities. It's exactly the wrong way to go.
UC2B in Urbana-Champaign Tackles Digital Divide With Network Revenue
The UC2B project broke ground in the fall of 2011 and is a joint effort by the cities of Urbana and Champaign and the University of Illinois. The project is funded with a $22.5 million federal stimulus grant, a $3 million grant from the state of Illinois, and a list of other grants from local agencies.
From the beginning, the project policy board resolved to set aside funding from the network to address the local digital divide. According to a Janelle O'Dea article in the Daily Illini, 2-5 percent of the annual revenue from the network will go into this fund. The policy board is now fielding ideas from the public. There will be a series of community meetings and the first brought several ideas. From the article:
Meeting attendees presented several ideas for how to spend the fund. Some suggested purchasing new computers for resident use and training residents to use computers.
Artice James, president of the Champaign chapter of the National Council of African-American Men, suggested using the funds to provide job training for the installation of fiber optic material to area homes. James said he hoped many of these jobs will employ minority residents.
Alkalimat also commented on the issue of creating permanent jobs for Champaign-Urbana residents. He said he could see potential for creating a group similar to Best Buy’s Geek Squad.
UC2B's approach brings more people to the network in a self-nourishing fashion. The local community knows where the digital divide is in their area. Funding and decisions come from the people who will live with the benefits of the network. UC2B is another example of how local communities can build networks to effectively address the digital divide.