RTC Conference: Wilhelm keynote

Submitted by acohill on Mon, 10/11/2004 - 11:27

I'm at the Rural Telecommunications Congress 8th Annual Conference.

Dr. Tony Wilhelm is the Director of TOP (Technologies Opportunities Program) at the Department of Commerce.

Wilhelm is emphasizing the need to tie technology investments to identified community needs. TOP does not fund infrastructure, it funds applications that use infrastructure to improve communities.

Demand for broadband is outstripping available funds. Demand exists because every facet of communities--first responders, businesses, citizens, local government--have a need for broadband.

Small businesses are using virtual business incubators, some funded by TOP, to help these businesses expand into international markets.

TOP priorities include economic development. Special emphasis this year is on broadband wireless technologies. Wireless projects are growing very rapidly. The third priority is to support faith-based initiatives. Some faith-based projects have included entrepreneurship development, sustainable economic development, and business ecommerce training.

TOP looks for projects that use technology creatively to help communities prosper. A major stumbling block for rural communities is lack of affordable broadband service. The Sevier River project in Utah has dramatically increased available water by providing more timely information to water managers. TOP looks for "infomation" projects that don't just automate (replacing people with technology). Infomation projects go beyond automation to provide leaders and decisionmakers with better tools to manage information and to solve problems.

Technology investments have created about half the productivity gains in the U.S. in recent years.

Successful TOP projects typically include:

Best predictor of success is an organization's ability to integrate new ideas and concepts--organizational maturity, not size. Leadership, leadership, leadership--solid principles and clear goals, good use of talented people, solid values clearly articulated with a willingness to take risks.

No one size fits all solution for organizations. Great leaders adapt goals and objectives to fit the abilities of the organization. TOP also looks for projects that really emphasize broad participation and partnerships.

Sustainability is also critical. Local ownership is key to a project's long term viability.

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