Benton Institute releases community broadband planning program guidebook

Aug. 5, 2022
The Accelerate community broadband planning program educates and supports community leadership teams as they create their community’s broadband vision and goals and pursue the best possible broadband solutions for their area.

With the historic opportunity of billions of dollars flowing through states to achieve universal broadband and digital equity, the Benton Institute for Broadband & Society recently released Accelerate: A Community Broadband Planning Program, a white paper guidebook for local leaders who want to ensure their communities are not left behind in obtaining federal funding for broadband infrastructure and services.

The guidebook seeks to help community broadband planning teams:

  • Understanding current and emerging technologies.
  • Navigating the politics of public- and private-sector roles.
  • Analyzing financial models, including public-sector programs.
  • Structuring public-private partnership agreements.

By empowering local leaders with knowledge, information, and a plan, communities will be well positioned to make progress on this significant challenge, contends Benton Institute.

A collaborative effort

The Accelerate guidebook is a collaboration of the Benton Institute for Broadband & Society and Blandin Foundation. Benton Institute for Broadband & Society is a non-profit organization dedicated to ensuring that all people in the U.S. have access to competitive, high-performance broadband. Blandin Foundation is a private foundation based in Grand Rapids, Minnesota.

One of a handful of rural-based, rural-serving foundations in the country, Blandin Foundation serves rural Minnesota, focusing resources in north-central Minnesota. The foundation says its "grants, opportunities that connect rural leaders, and policy work build up financial and human capital, so rural Minnesota places can welcome diversity, address injustice, and embrace change to create a sustainable and equitable future."

Blandin originally designed the Accelerate Program for Minnesota, creating many of the tools shared in the guidebook. 

"Active engagement of community leadership is essential so that broadband infrastructure investments meet long-term community needs," said Bernadine Joselyn, who directs Blandin Foundation’s Public Policy and Engagement program area. "Community broadband planning is complicated; Accelerate simplifies the process by breaking down its many parts."

The Benton Institute is implementing the Accelerate Program in Illinois and other states with the support of Heartland Forward and its Connecting the Heartland initiative. Heartland Forward is a nonpartisan, nonprofit "think and do tank" focused on improving economic performance in the center of the United States.

Heartland Forward is based in Bentonville, Arkansas, but its work focuses on the entire heartland region which is comprised of 20 states. The Connecting the Heartland initiative is a multi-pronged, multi-state initiative in America's heartland working to boost internet availability, internet speeds, adoption rates, and participation in online services that are key to opportunity. The publication of the guidebook is made possible with funding from Heartland Forward's Connecting the Heartland initiative.

Angie Cooper, chief program officer at Heartland Forward said, "With unprecedented federal funding to increase access to high-speed internet, it is so important for local communities to have the tools necessary to create a plan to ensure their residents are connected as soon as possible. Heartland Forward is proud to work alongside our partners to provide resources for local leaders and community members, so communities in the heartland have the support they need. We thank Benton Institute for their continued engagement and expertise to bring Accelerate: A Community Broadband Planning Program to the heartland region."

Deployment models include public-private partnerships

The Accelerate community broadband planning program educates and supports community leadership teams as they create their community’s broadband vision and goals and pursue the best possible broadband solutions for their area.

"Good luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity," said Accelerate author Bill Coleman. "Through Accelerate we are empowering local leaders with knowledge, information, and a plan. These are the tools every community needs to extend broadband networks everywhere and connect everyone."

In the guidebook's introduction, Coleman states further:

With billions of dollars flowing through states to achieve universal broadband and digital equity, this guidebook will help local leaders ensure their communities are not left behind. The Accelerate community broadband planning program educates and supports community leadership teams as they create their community’s broadband vision and goals and pursue the best possible broadband solutions for their area.

By delivering the Accelerate process to multiple communities or counties simultaneously through a cohort approach, state broadband officials can provide high-quality education and guidance that empowers communities to effectively spur broadband deployment through a variety of deployment models, including public-private partnerships.

Accelerate is designed to increase leaders’ ability to stimulate broadband infrastructure investments that support community goals such as economic development, telehealth delivery, distance learning, and civic engagement. Active engagement of community leadership is essential so that broadband infrastructure investments meet long-term community needs.

Download the guidebook (PDF).

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