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Guest Commentary: Lake County's courage to expand broadband deserves recognition

Hope is the engine that powers change. Hope inspires communities to imagine a vibrant future for themselves and the generations to come.

Lake County leaders' foresight, and ultimate decision, to strengthen their community by expanding high-speed Internet (broadband) access was grounded in hope for a better future and deserves recognition.

In 2009, county leaders already had figured out what other rural communities are just now realizing — that broadband access, and the skills to use it, are fundamental for strong economies, leading-edge education and healthcare, and a high quality of life.

Listening to the needs of their communities, Lake County leaders took courageous action on an issue that will define their future. Their ability to pull people together, identify needs, pool resources and forge partnerships — skills they used to make their broadband expansion choice — will serve them time and time again when opportunities and challenges arise.

We see the same forward-leaning hope in other work, county leaders have invited Blandin Foundation into, such as Two Harbors' participation in the Leaders Partnering to End Poverty Program (LPEP). Organized through LPEP, Beacons of Hope leaders now combat poverty through inclusive conversation and action with leadership skills learned and exercised during training.

We saw it five years ago when Lake County was a Blandin Broadband Community. Making the most of the broadband connectivity they had at the time, leaders created a shared vision to improve Internet use. They launched a YouTube channel to share training videos, paired youth and seniors together to improve digital literacy, and created a central online source for community information, events and resources.

And the energy continues this summer. Two Harbors is recruiting for its third Blandin Community Leadership Program cohort.

We see how Lake County leaders continue to do what it takes to ensure a healthy and inclusive — vibrant — future for residents.

When it comes to rural broadband access, the need is great. There is no one-size-fits-all recipe for success. Each community's situation is unique, and the menu of possible approaches is strongly impacted by whether any local providers are willing and able to partner.

Without a subsidy or incentive, for-profit providers sometimes cannot fully serve areas that don't bring them enough financial return. That's why some communities — like Lake County — choose to take their future into their own hands. As a result of their bold vision, Lake County residents now can use their world-class broadband network to do things like turn home offices into global operations, increasing sales and reducing costs. Research from the Strategic Networks Group found that for every $1 invested in broadband access and use, local economies see a return of $10. This confirms that broadband is one of the best bets a community can make when it comes to its future.

Communities must press on through successes and hurdles. Broadband access is fundamental to the survival of rural communities. Business people, students, patients and families feel that now more than ever. As rural champions, we must do what we can to kindle hope and empower local leaders to take action to meet their community's needs.

We applaud you, Lake County, for your courageous leadership and your hopeful commitment to building a better future.

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