The Vermont Council on Rural Development (VCRD) works with Vermont communities to identify local priorities and rally residents behind those goals.
Since the year 2000, we heard the call from rural Vermonters on the critically important need for broadband connection. VCRD became a key convener of state, federal and non-profit leadership efforts to expand infrastructure in rural Vermont, and a facilitator of local demand aggregation to attract services to rural communities.
Soon another issue emerged – after broadband infrastructure arrives, how do communities make best use of those resources? To answer that question, VCRD led a partnership to form the e-Vermont Community Broadband Project. The partnership included the Vermont State Department of Libraries, Digital Wish, a national leader in one-to-one computing curricula for schools, Front Porch Forum, a Vermont-designed and community based social networking system, the Vermont State Colleges, VT Small Business Development Center, and the Snelling Center for Government.
For two years the e-Vermont Partnership worked throughout Vermont to expand business capacity and create new jobs, build neighbor to neighbor communications, transform schools by personalizing learning and accessing new worlds of ideas and activities, make libraries information centers and gateways to the online world, launch innovative digital literacy programs, and give municipalities a new power to communicate and serve their citizens.
Through e-Vermont, we have built a cultural infrastructure for innovation, founded on local leadership, and providing models for rural towns everywhere.
In areas just coming into broadband service throughout rural America many people don’t recognize the benefits of new digital resources: businesses lack websites and social networking, schools do not use on-line offerings, and libraries don’t have the equipment or experience to connect patrons with online resources. One in five adults don't use the Internet at all. On the other hand, younger folks who have grown up with broadband will not choose to live in towns lacking fast connections and digital culture.
In 2010, the Broadband Technology Opportunities Program allocated federal stimulus funds to e-Vermont to overcome the digital divide and build innovation in rural use of new broadband capacity.. Private funders committed to closing this divide in Vermont with matching support, for which we thank the Evslin Family Foundation, VT Community Foundation, Microsoft, Comcast, Dell, VT Rural Partnership, UVM Center for Rural Studies, and the Jan and David Blittersdorf Foundation.
e-Vermont was founded on the power of community. Its services were customized to meet local needs under local leadership. It supported community goals to make Internet use functional in solving local problems and building local opportunities. It built momentum and models of local action in the 24 communities that can be used across the state and country.
This report shares some of their lessons. It is a shortened for the web version of the full printed report, which is available as a PDF download.
VCRD, and e-Vermont, are founded on faith in local community and democracy in action. It has been our honor to serve as a catalyst for innovation in the e-Vermont communities and to contribute the findings of this report for replication elsewhere.
~Paul Costello, Executive Director, Vermont Council on Rural Development