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Building Community Broadband: Barriers, Opportunities, and Experiences of Community-Based Organizations with U.S. Federal Broadband Development Efforts

Steven Jackson and Andrew Gordon

ASIST 2011 Annual Meeting
New Orleans, LA, October 9-12, 2011


Despite the recent $7.2 billion U.S. federal investment in broadband infrastructure through the Broadband Technology Opportunities and Broadband Initiatives Programs (BTOP and BIP), significant questions around the effectiveness of such national-scale initiatives at the local level remain. Drawing on interviews, observation, and documentary evidence, this paper charts the experience of more than thirty grassroots and community-based organizations (CBOs) from around the country that have engaged the BTOP and BIP process. We explore the challenges CBOs have faced in initiating, developing partnerships, and executing BTOP and BIP grant applications. We find that CBOs often struggled to define the effective scope of potential BTOP projects, and to align these with their traditional organizational goals and objectives. In some instances, groups also struggled to develop effective project partnerships, and often dealt with structural and operational asymmetries in dealing with larger and more institutionalized partners (universities, city governments, social service agencies, etc.), and in meeting the more formalized evaluation, reporting, and management requirements of the federal program. Despite these barriers, a sizeable number of community-based organizations did engage in successful BTOP and BIP applications, which are now moving into operational stage. The paper concludes with recommendations for reform of the BTOP, BIP, and similar initiatives (including possible successor program) that could improve the inclusion and effectiveness of community-based organizations as agents of broadband development and social change.

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