TEDx

Rural Broadband Necessary for Rural Innovation

broadbandplugIt’s nice to see that people are recognizing that innovation isn’t always in Silicon Valley. Writing you today from the countryside in Three Oaks, Michigan, aka “Michiana” — where my poky web access is satellite based.

Steve Case’s article this morning in the Washington Post  – Why innovation and start-ups are thriving in ‘flyover’ country –  is spot on. Case, you may recall, was co-founder of AOL. He correctly identifies the reasons why Chicago, Denver, Cincinnati, and other smaller cities are becoming vibrant centers of start-ups. He’s asking for investments of time and money to be made in order to further the trend. I agree, and…

He didn’t go far enough with his article — he missed one key factor in developing a wide distribution of start-ups and entrepreneurial companies in the USA (and this hold true for other large countries). What he missed is a Lack of Rural Technology Infrastructure. The National Broadband Plan, articulated as part of the USA economic stimulus, has never been implemented. Like many good ideas it’s been politicized, and so, South Korean children have better web access at schools than Americans. Even if the National Broadband Plan was fully implemented, it leaves out a lot of rural people, it’s not Universal Access for Americans.

Case cites “advancements in technology” as one reason flyover areas are having, and will have more, start-ups. Well, yes, but it’s not a given they’ll get access to that technology. Case assumes that what’s common even in small cities is actually universal. It’s not universal. Rural areas have been neglected by both commercial companies and the government. There are a few exceptions, with entrepreneurs trying to close the gap (like aXess America — recently purchased by larger player Mercury Wireless). But infrastructure of any kind is expensive and small telco’s simply don’t have the cash to invest.

This is one of those national issues in the USA that screams for across aisle cooperation, creative problem solving, and compromise for the common good. Universal access to broadband ought to be a national goal.

I ask any rural American voter this question: Who’s working to get you, your family, and your community the broadband access you’re going to need in the future? Vote accordingly, vote in your interest. Your schools, your healthcare, your farm, the small business that dot the countryside, and, the businesses that need to be invented in your communities — all need broadband to prosper.

Why can’t this problem become an opportunity? Why not incentivize private companies to invest in rural technology infrastructure? I don’t want this to be a government service, but any port in the storm. Wasn’t this done years ago to bring electricity to every home in America? Isn’t this part of what made us, for a long time, the most modern country in the world? This challenge was addressed by Congress in 1936 as part of the New Deal and it worked both as a lifestyle improvement and also as stimulus for the economy. Why can’t we do the modern equivalent now? Why would the USA not lead the world in web access? We don’t by the way, not even close. The UK, Canada, France, Sweden, Australia — and 23 more countries — all beat the USA for percentage of web penetration. We’re second to the Chinese in total numbers, but the USA is #28 in availability. Sad statistic, particularly if we want to encourage start-ups in the countryside.

Nearly every start-up, particularly in remote areas, let alone small cities, relies on fast web access. In a lot of rural places — large geographic areas — fast access is woefully bad. People resort to using cellular phones to do email and web browsing. Or driving 20 minutes to a town to use the library or a a restaurants Wifi. The wonderful world of Netflix — fagedaboutit.

It’s assumed (by many who live in cities) that everybody who is willing to pay can get fast web access. Not so, there are plenty of places in this country that have no decent option for fast access. Rural areas these days are lucky to get a digital phone line, let alone web access, as the days of Ma Bell taking care of everyone are long over. Rural folks have a solution for television (services like Dish Network) but satellite web access is expensive and slow (AT&T’s Wild Blue/Excede). Wild Blue/Excede limits downloads and has severe penalties for going over the limit (they’ll cut you off).

Of course, big companies like AT&T and Comcast could care less about areas with low population densities. Comcast won’t put a cable down your road if there aren’t at least 20 paying customers per mile (that’s my guess). AT&T is avoiding upgrading POTS service in rural areas because it’s expensive and it’s a long term payoff. Local governments are smart enough to insist on getting cable access in the village, but they often neglect the farmers just one mile out of town. Often the cable company is required by franchise agreements to put lines in remote areas — but are allowed to get away without doing so.

Can I remind you that advanced things get invented in rural America?

Philo Farnsworth, son of an Idaho potato farmer, came up with the key invention that enabled television — the video camera tube. There is enormous entrepreneurial opportunity out in the sticks, not just because of the talent, but the abundant natural resources. As we rethink energy and food production, and as recycling becomes a way of life, I can tell you that the innovative solutions we seek involve rural assets and people.

So, this is a simple appeal to both business and to government. Invest in rural technology infrastructure, first and foremost, broadband access. It will pay off in both the short and long run in more start-ups and job generating innovation out where the air is fresh.

On a local and personal note — Hey Fred Upton — so how about doing something for us out in the rural areas of Berrien county! Michiana needs better broadband. Why aren’t you working to get the National Broadband Plan, flawed as it is, implemented?

 

 

Quick & Dirty Innovation

Many companies started 2014 with the good intention of “getting after innovation” this year. Was that your organization? How’s that going? Are you jumping for joy or singing the blues? Some companies have worked hard and consistently at innovation all this year. They started the year running and got things done. Look at the slew of announcements Apple just made (to be fair the watch took years). Other companies made a good start but got caught up in the red tape of too much process. So, it’s September now. For those of you who’ve been busy keeping up with business operations and haven’t had time to do formal innovation this year, all is not lost. Consider: Quick & Dirty Innovation (QDI) “Wake up

Read More..

Five Ways to Gain Story Fluency

Story Fluency and Innovation Every time I blink these days I see another article on story. It’s something of a too popular buzzfad, but for good reason. Clearly, story is important in many aspects of marketing, communication, and innovation. The current literature tends to focus on understanding story, and, aligning a story with a brand, or an organization. There is also the related trend of story telling, ala The Moth. I’ve been involved this last year with a similar regional group, Indigan Storyteller here in Michiana, and its been a transformative experience. I’ve written a business novel (Jack’s Notebook) and I can tell you this, I’m still learning to create and tell stories. Story is a saw we can all sharpen. What doesn’t

Read More..

Innovation Facilitation — Death is Easy, Magic Takes Training

Three Essentials for Magical Innovation Facilitation An essential ingredient to successful innovation projects is good facilitation. Who could argue with that? Innovation combines individual and group activities. Good group collaboration is not a given. Even individual activities need coordination with the group effort. You really need an inspiring, confident, well-trained facilitator to enable innovation. I’m talking about running and managing strategy meetings, ideation sessions, virtual sessions (using IMS), concept writing sessions, and other group work. A good facilitator makes a world of difference in the results of these group meetings and activities. And yet, in the long list of things that can go wrong in innovation initiatives, it’s often the one that is overlooked or taken for granted. The problem

Read More..

Changing Innovation Culture by Doing — Three Reasons It Doesn’t Happen

Innovation culture doesn’t change with assessment or analysis. You can learn a great deal about who you are and what your culture is like with the various assessment tools, but knowing isn’t changing. I’m a huge fan of KEYS, FourSight, and other assessment tools but they are not the answer. Training can help, but training alone will not do the job either. What changes innovation culture then? Doing. You change culture by Doing.  When employees are empowered to solve problems and those solutions are put into play, it’s motivating. It changes hearts and minds. And it changes them faster than anything else. Min Basadur says it’s the only way a culture will change. I agree with Min. Min’s been around

Read More..

Big Imagination is Blind Spot Remover

Coming back from a trip to Toronto (visiting with the amazing Min Basadur) I spotted an interesting billboard at O’Hare airport. IBM suggests they can help “Remove the Blind Spots from Your Business” — by using Big Data and analytics. The visual of a man at a kind of virtual desktop that has visibility to ships, trucks, retail, and factories indicates that if you can just know more about what’s going on out there you’ll have nothing to worry about. If only that were so. I’m not bad rapping IBM here, I’m sure they can indeed provide lots of interesting insight using Big Data and analytics. Many companies would be well served to do a better job with this. Using

Read More..

Six Ideas for Creative Action

What kind of action can you take, today, to advance your dream? What action can you take today to make real your invention, your new business idea, or art project? This is a post about taking creative action. All the great ideas in the world, all the wonderful concepts, all the ground-breaking thoughts we have are useless unless we get into real world action. It’s an easy concept to forget for people who love ideas, concepts, and imaginative thinking. Somehow — we are such great rationalisers — the good vibes generated when we have those lovely thoughts feel like action. But sadly they are not. Every day that slips by without real world forward progress on our creative ideas is

Read More..

Harvard’s Kodak Moment?

Have you ever been in the position where you thought, “gee, if only I was better educated, or just smarter, this complex decision in front of me would be easy.” In the innovation world the agonizing decision of whether to embrace a new trend and leave behind your old business model is always brutally dificult. Organizations have been torn to shreds in the conflict about what to do. Some have made those big choices and survived, like IBM, or, made bad choices and bit the dust, like Kodak. Part of the psychology of leadership is the doubt, the fear, that you’re not quite smart enough to make a good decision. One of the reasons people flock to Harvard to get

Read More..

Have You Made the Creative Choice?

Have you made the Creative Choice? There is a ton of written material about creativity and innovation. I make an effort to keep up with the waves of literature — there’s a new methodology, a new process, fresh brain research, best practices, anti-best practices, etc. Some of this literature is quite good. There is also stuff about how creativity relates to mysticism and spirituality, also quite interesting. Finally there is also a good deal of useless, boring drivel that only reinforces unhelpful mythology about creativity. If you intend to be more creative and to use that capacity to innovate, I would encourage you to read widely and make your own judgments, but don’t get lost in all the words, don’t

Read More..

The Year is Half Over, Where is Your Innovation?

The Year is Half Over, Where is Your Innovation? Underway? Running like a Swiss Watch? Missing in Action? Innovation Peeps: The year is nearly half over. Okay, in a month it will be officially half over. I’m doing this with seven months left this year so that you might get a running start on an innovation initiative — an “FEI Cycle” that you can complete by year end. FEI stands for Front-End-of-Innovation. This is the perfect time to take a half-year checkpoint on your innovation efforts because there is still time to get some significant work done in 2014. On July 1, you’ll have six months left to get something done, or, complete something already underway. Consider the next thirty days your

Read More..