Making broadband central to rural development programs
Affordable access and widespread training help rural communities thrive and contribute to the nation’s health and well-being
Kentucky-based Center for Rural Strategies is a non-profit organization that seeks to improve economic and social conditions for communities in the countryside around the world. The NGO, established in 2001, makes innovative use of the media and communications to present compelling portraits of rural lives and cultures.
The Center’s objective is to deepen public debate and create a national environment in which positive change can occur for rural communities. It also runs the National Rural Assembly, a coalition of over 400 organizations working at various levels.
The Center recently won a major battle when the United States Federal Communications Commission voted for making broadband Internet access available for many low-income and rural Americans. It has been a part of a broad coalition of organizations and individuals calling for this change. The organization maintains that affordable access and widespread training will help rural communities thrive and contribute to the nation’s health and well-being.
This move will not only improve access to education, work opportunities, quality health care and social services but also ensure greater participation of these communities in the electoral process. It fought the battle on the premise that broadband is not a luxury but a necessity and that making it affordable is essential building block for healthy communities.
Center for Rural Strategies may be just another pressure group, representing the interests of a large proportion of electorates, yet it cannot be put in the same category as business lobbies and even minority groupsEhtesham Shahid
“Less than half of rural adults have access to broadband at home, while two-thirds of metropolitan adults do. As the Internet becomes crucial in economics, education, and civic life, communities that are left behind pay a higher price for their lack of access,” said the organization’s campaign material. The Center believes – and rightly so – that rural America’s fate is interrelated to those of metropolitan and urban America and that building stronger rural communities helps the nation as a whole.
The Center for Rural Strategies is fairly collaborative in its approach. Besides pursuing its objectives, it also helps communities and NGOs incorporate media and communications into their work in support of strategic goals. It designs and implements information campaigns to educate the public about the problems and opportunities that exist in contemporary rural communities.
At one level, Center for Rural Strategies may be just another pressure group, representing the interests of a large proportion of electorates, yet it cannot be put in the same category as business lobbies and even minority groups. The organization’s objectives are driven by local needs, they are transparent, and they focus on the larger and long-term interest of the rural community across the entire nation.
It is imperative that rural communities are not ignored while policies are being drafted and funds allocated. This should be as relevant in any part of the world. The European Union regards its rural areas as a vital part of its physical make-up and identity. EU’s Rural Development Policy (2007-2013) states that more than 91 percent of the EU territory is “rural”, and home to more than 56 percent of the EU’s population. Any nation can ignore such large tracts of land, and its inhabitants, at its own peril.
NGOs working in rural areas all over the world should learn from an organization such as the Center for Rural Strategies. It presents a successful model of advocacy to fulfill the dream of a more equitable world. More specifically, it has used its offices to make something as critical as broadband part of the rural development agenda.
Ehtesham Shahid is a Managing Editor at Al Arabiya English. For close to two decades he has worked as editor, correspondent, and business writer for leading publications, news wires and research organizations in India and the Gulf region. He loves to occasionally dabble with teaching and is collecting material for a book on unique tales of rural conflict and transformation from around the world. His twitter handle is @e2sham.