How broadband connects islands

I know people who live on islands. It's a dreamy, idyllic life for a city-slicker outsider like myself. But as most grass-is-always-greener stories go, there's a deeper, more complicated subtext to the reality of island living.

I recently read an article about a rural island in Michigan, where lives were improved and expanded by high speed access. Islanders were able to pursue technology careers, like designing web sites. Students used broadband in classes and were able to keep up with urban counterparts. And some used technology as a medium to cope with illness and loss. Since we've been thinking a lot about broadband improvement projects as we survey library and nonprofit projects funded by BTOP grants, I thought this article was particularly useful for making a case for broadband and how high speed access can change lives.

For a few years now at TechSoup, we've heard from librarians who planned to use video conferencing in their libraries. Librarians have mused about use case scenarios and some libraries we've talked to received the technology and have yet to dust off the equipment and share it with their patrons. In our BTOP work, we've talked to librarians from the Portland Public Library in Maine who plan to use their funding both to host intra-library staff learning and for connecting the public to distance learning. Sarah Campbell, in charge of lending services and technical services, shared,

A certain number of the libraries would also become videoconferencing hubs, sort of regional hubs that would provide training for patrons, but also for Library staff members. So for us it builds on existing public computing capabilities which are a core part of what we do at our renovated Main Library.  And so, it allows us to move beyond just the sort of more casual technology uses to enhance what we might do in our research area to provide a lot more in-depth service to constituencies like government and business, science and technology, and some of those areas."

On Beaver Island, the local health center makes use of video conferencing equipment much like a public meeting room at a public library might. A 70-year old woman living with cancer routinely meets with a support group off the island of folks living with cancer. These support gatherings happen at the island's rural health center, where a video conferencing unit displays a group off the island. There's no doubting that real connections are being made, with participants reporting that, "the only thing you're missing are all the hugs and stuff." What's particularly interesting about this story is that the protagonist, Muggs Bass, doesn't own a computer. Or a cell phone. She's what researchers might call a broadband adopter, yet she doesn't have need for her own technology or connection. This leads me to another topic, one that merits its own post, and one of concern for many BTOP grantees: what is adoption? Is it taking advantage of technology or paying for it?