Blandin Broadband Conference 2008: Robert Bell – Creating the Intelligent Community

robert_bellThe Blandin Broadband conference started today. We have been pleasantly surprised with the number of registrants – so that’s fun. This afternoon I attended a presentation from Robert Bell of the Intelligent Community Forum. It was very interesting. I took notes.

I realized that I could proof my notes and post this on Friday or post asis today. I hope you can overlook any typos.

What is an intelligent community? – Robert Bell

Broadband flattens the world. We compete and collaborate with communities all over the world. Bad News
o Transaction costs went down
o Economy boomed
o It started with the Fortune 1000s – but in the 90s regular people got it too.
o Businesses are looking for appropriate rates for jobs
o Supercharged competition – shortens product development BUT also shortens lifecycle
o Local success is reliant on global issues

Broadband flattens the world. We compete and collaborate with communities all over the world. Good news
o Global trade opportunities emerge
o Innovation becomes important
o Go global for education
o Increase community involvement
• Takes a prolonged, conscious effort to adapt
o Requires collaboration among sectors
o Comfort with change/progress

What are Intelligent Community Indicators?
• Broadband
• Knowledge workforce (creates demand for broadband)
• Innovation (also creates broadband demand)
• Digital Inclusion
• Marketing (tell the community story well)

Marketing & Advocacy

In a global economy, marketing is more important than ever. You need to provide the world with reasons to build or relocate in your area. Need to talk about:

Sell your strengths
o Broadband
o Education
o Degree of economic inequality
o Culture and practice of innovation

• Be dramatic
• Internal advocacy (build up local confidence)

Local comments

MNPRO – an online effort in Minnesota to highlight profile. It’s difficult to get those updated – it’s difficult get communities to update their own profiles. It’s tough because no one’s job depends on it.

Economic developers are judged by traditional means. Economic developers do not get credit for local expansion only when we open any new shops.

Strongest form of marketing is word of mouth. So, economic developers need to get everyone on the same page to promote the community. That’s what has made viral marketing valuable.

Companies take notice in infrastructure projects – and that helps them choose where to relocate, build or open.

Is there a tool to help communities self assess their intelligence quotient? Not yet – but ICN is working on it through the ICN academy (which they are working on).

There’s a lot of good discussion on building from within – but it’s a challenge to change the system. The State and Federal programs target the big business moves , not the smaller entrepreneurial efforts. It’s more effective to work small – but we need the support. But the fact that discussion are happening now indicates that it will be part of the process later – maybe in the few years.

Digital Inclusion

Need to promote digital inclusion. As prosperity has increased, so has inequality. Inequality is inevitable but too much is a bad thing.
• Skills that can be exported digitally are at a premium
• Products that are enhanced with broadband are at a premium
• Need broadband and skills to use broadband
• So we need to improve access, affordability and skills

Success Strategies
• Requires feedback from target users. (And you have to listen to them.)
• Create sustainable capacity for digital inclusion
• Requires long-term investment

What are issues in MN?

The elderly are an issue and they aren’t necessarily interested in technology. Any ideas? In the Netherlands, they have lots of older folks. They set up a network and set up cameras around town so that folks could look out their windows remotely. Helping folks see grandkids is another big motivator. In other words people-to-people connections speaks loudest.

Local governments get accused of pushing things that people don’t want. We want o reach everyone – but how do engage the people that aren’t hearing the message. How? Use other messengers. Get local community e-champions and deputize them to talk for you.

The local community is a great gatekeeper for getting people online because you have services that people want and need.

Small businesses have been asking for web sites so the state works with Intuit, which gives people free lessons and a web site. Wii Bowling is another great use of technology or at least intro to technology for many folks.

Small towns and leadership who don’t use technology is a hard mix. How do you move a leadership who grew up with a secretary who did much of their work? Get them younger peers who use the technology. Once you’re a little insecure, you learn.

Find the early adopters and work with them if the late adopters are your hang up.
• Knowledge – knowing what has already been done
• Access to talent
• Access to markets

How do you build an innovative technology?

• Get knowledge workers
• Build innovation (don’t waste time on relocating businesses)
• Think beyond cluster
• Make it easier to start a business
• Create a pipeline for talent
• Access to funding
• Improve access to markets
• Invest in e-government (but think about investment in the community too by thinking about economic development)

How do we do this in MN?

We are building FTTH but folks don’t necessarily think about themselves as innovators. But innovators don’t necessarily focus on technology – innovation comes from somewhere and maybe we can add that into the marketing.

What are you going to do with broadband? Ask before you build to speed ROI. Need to think about applications and connectivity.
Any ideas for rural brain drain? All of this is about kids. You can transform yourself from the middle of nowhere to somewhere with broadband.

Everybody is going to be above average with broadband – but how do we get there when lots of us all really followers? The point is that the bar is being raised for us all. We don’t all need to be leaders – but through leaders comes leadership – which raises that bar. Innovation is local, specific and reaction to the marketplace.

What can states do to encourage development of broadband? Right now you need super majority for a community to provide broadband. That’s not a help. Create a reasonable regulatory environment.

Not all innovation is a new product. It can also be making an old thing better. And lots of innovation is going to fail.

Knowledge Workforce

• Post-industrial economy
• Broadband drives economic incentive for knowledge workers
• Broadband rewards knowledge work
• Education is important but aside from k12 and some higher ed, communities don’t have control

What can communities do?

• Coordinate assets (IP policy)
• Create assets
• Create a culture for knowledge work


Why does government get involved?
• To overcome a broadband gap
• To fill a broadband hole
• To make a broadband statement

How does government get involved?
• Policy
• Network for government use
• Public-private partnerships
• Dark fiber and open-access networks
• Direct competition
• Get a sustainable model
• If you compete know that the others are really going to compete
• Need to manage expectations

2 thoughts on “Blandin Broadband Conference 2008: Robert Bell – Creating the Intelligent Community

  1. Pingback: Robert Bell and the 7 Habits of Intelligent Communities « Blandin on Broadband

  2. Pingback: Local Intelligent Community in the works « Blandin on Broadband

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