Common Connections

I’ve always found traveling to be an overwhelming combination of excitement and exhaustion, never more so than coming home from my most recent trip California.  After a packed week full of meetings and reunions with friends, I found out about 30 minutes after the scheduled departure time that my flight home was cancelled. For future reference, when you start seeing people sprinting out of your gate for the front entrance, follow them or you will be stuck in line behind 200 people all trying to rebook travel to your destination.

Needless to say, it was sorted out and I found myself spending 12 hours on three consecutive flights with the same charming flight attendant taking the southern route through LAX and DFW to get home.

But that’s not really why I’m writing this… it’s context for the actual story.

We’ve been doing a lot of work in community broadband lately, something I had never really thought about prior to starting it, but it’s a topic I’m finding has more and more implications to some of our largest societal challenges… economic development, healthcare, education, finance, you name it, the internet is now involved in that industry.  Which means that people who don’t have access to the internet are being left behind in our economy.  The problem is that a lot of us don’t realize it’s happening because while we may complain about the cost or service delivery, we do actually have internet access.

My first seatmate was on his way to Hong Kong to facilitate the roll out of Facebook to Asia.  We had an interesting discussion about some of the cultural differences between the American and Asian workforce, and then he asked what I do… so I explained some of the work we’ve been doing in community broadband. It was an interesting conversation, and not a topic he really thought about or heard of, but he fully understood the implications of not having access to high speed internet.  My takeaway, this doesn’t seem to be a pressing issue for a company that relies on the internet for the entirety of its business, or at least it’s not one that middle management is thinking about just yet.

My second seatmate and I did not spend the entire flight chatting, quite the opposite, we never said a word to each other.  And yet… there was community broadband.  Specifically, he spent most of the flight reading the newspaper, and right there on the second page was an article on Google Fiber’s current business model rethink.  Long story short, building a fiber network is expensive so they are switching to wireless and leasing fiber from municipal governments.

Twice in two flights!  Could my next seatmate prove that lightning will strike three times in the same place?!?!  Alas, no.  He was a charming pool maintenance man on vacation with his family.  Which is just as well since I was totally fried by the time we left Dallas and was having difficulty stringing complete sentences together (see aforementioned exhaustion).

I have no doubt that I am starting to see broadband more often because I’m working in this space, but there’s also some hope that I’m seeing more articles and opportunities because there is starting to be a broader awareness that internet access, the digital divide, is a serious issue.  There is work to be done, and perhaps it’s time to see if we can recruit some new allies…

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