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Some Interesting Finds from the Emerging Issues Policy Forum

BY Michael Turk | Monday, December 8 2008

Yesterday I had the opportunity to attend the Emerging Issues Policy Forum in Jacksonville, Florida. This was an odd event. I was attending on behalf of the day job, but I was talking about how campaigns are using the Internet. It was all part of a discussion on the "real world" applications of the broadband platform.

Most of the attendees are legislators and public utility commissioners who gather to discuss the latest in telecom policy. This year they also wanted to explore the way broadband is enriching the lives of Americans.

On my panel were two people representing a couple of really interesting groups - the Virginia Broadband Roundtable and Verizon's Thinkfinity project.

The Virginia Broadband Roundtable

The Virginia Broadband Roundtable is a Tim Kaine/Mark Warner project that really represents some sound thinking in public-private partnerships. They provide a wealth of information for rural communities looking to develop broadband infrastructure.

What's interesting about the program is they get communities to think in creative ways about some of these initiatives. For instance, one community in Southwestern Virginia wanted to develop broadband but was running into trouble with funding. Working with the VBR, they identified a community hospital and let them become the driver for bringing broadband to the community.

With the help of a large grant from the state's tobacco settlement fund, they first upgraded the hospital's telemedicine capacity by bringing a fat pipe to the hospital. Once the backbone was in place, it became a neutral conduit to other services. The community could offer a connection to that pipe for private networks offered to the residents.

I believe they said the adoption in that community is nearing 70%, and the vast majority of the $9.5 million came from tobacco funds, not broadband programs. It's an innovative solution to help underwrite the costs. The VBR has helped others work in similar partnerships to deploy broadband without bankrupting cities.

Thinkfinity is a resource provided by Verizon's Educational Foundation. The site provides a source for educational materials for teachers, but is a free service usable by anyone.

As part of their explanation, they searched resources on Thinkfinity coinciding with the 67th anniversary of Pearl Harbor. Featuring animated maps of the attack, audio of the radio operator reports, draft copies of the President's radio address, and Navy Department communiques, the site provided a lot of visual context that is often missing in classbook learning. I can see a lot of application for homeschoolers looking for supplemental lesson plans based on big events in history.

While these two items may not seem closely related to "Personal Democracy", they really are. It's important that we understand this platform is just as important for learning as it is for interacting and participating in Democracy.

Having access to broadband is clearly a national priority, and the VBR demonstrates there are ways for government to take a lead on that, without being ham-handed.