Most of us know what broadband is and long ago stopped being amazed at how quickly we were able to send and receive large amounts of data online. But what is somewhat surprising is how many small businesses still aren’t using a broadband connection. If you’re not taking advantage of broadband, you’re losing business. According to a recent Federal Communications Commission (FCC) report, about 60 million Americans regularly shop online for products and services, yet only 24 percent of U.S. businesses are selling online. In fact, that same study reveals about 75 percent of small businesses don’t use social networking tools like LinkedIn, Facebook, or Twitter, and 90 percent don’t have company blogs. (It actually pains me to report stats like these.)
Numerous other studies show that broadband helps entrepreneurs more easily build a global presence, create e-commerce websites, interact with customers, and take advantage of new technologies. A study by management consulting group McKinsey & Company reported that broadband helped 54 percent of businesses reduce communication costs and 52 percent increase the effectiveness of their marketing efforts.
The issue is so important that several of the nation’s largest corporations — HP, Microsoft, AT&T, Cisco, Constant Contact, Google, and Intuit among them — donated over $1.1 million to help launch a public/private consortium to encourage broadband adoption by small businesses. Since SCORE, Counselors to America’s Small Businesses, is handling the responsibility of helping entrepreneurs, I talked to SCORE CEO Ken Yancey to find out more about the SCORE Broadband Consortium.
Rieva Lesonsky: What exactly is SCORE’s role in this project?
Ken Yancey: Thank you for this opportunity to talk about the new SCORE Broadband Consortium. This alliance will focus on helping entrepreneurs by increasing their digital literacy, Web skills, e-commerce capabilities, and use of online tools. This year, SCORE will expand our outreach to help more entrepreneurs learn how they can use broadband technologies as a key part of their growth strategies. As you know, SCORE provides startup entrepreneurs and small business owners with confidential mentoring, training, and resources for success. SCORE’s network of business experts will mentor entrepreneurs in adopting broadband technology for e-commerce [and other uses].
Lesonsky: I understand over $1 million was donated to the SCORE Foundation so SCORE can help small business owners learn about and adapt broadband capabilities?
Yancey: Yes, that’s right. Thanks to the leading corporations who generously donated to support this effort, we will provide free services, training, and support for small businesses. The consortium will also look for ways to make hardware, software, and professional services available to small businesses. We will provide training, tools, and educational resources to help entrepreneurs make the most of broadband for their businesses.
Lesonsky: How does broadband help small business owners?
Yancey: Small businesses [need] high-speed access so they can better compete in the global marketplace. With fast access to the Web, small businesses can interact more effectively with customers both locally and internationally. Broadband helps entrepreneurs to develop their online presence while allowing their customers to connect with their products and services.
Small businesses are looking for a competitive advantage and ways to grow and compete in a global economy. E-commerce and online access are keys to success. Small businesses often don’t use broadband because they don’t have the resources or training to get started. This public/private partnership will change that.
Entrepreneurs’ businesses will benefit from:
- Free online workshops to train them on [using] broadband for e-commerce.
- Regional training events to introduce them to broadband.
- Free online how-to materials and tools with e-commerce tips and strategies for achieving high-speed success.
Lesonsky: Is broadband adoption more prevalent in some regions of the U.S.? How are the small businesses in those areas doing?
Yancey: Currently, broadband adoption is more common in urban and suburban areas. However, according to an FCC survey, 50 percent of rural residents do use broadband. Rural Americans with broadband use the Internet for shopping and taking online classes just as much as people living in urban and suburban areas. Rural businesses are struggling as the economy recovers. Broadband technology can help them reach new markets and connect with customers online.
Lesonsky: There was a kickoff announcement on April 7th. What’s next?
Yancey: SCORE will host the first consortium meeting in early May. Then the partners will begin developing tools, workshops, and resources to roll out nationwide in the next six to twelve months.
Lesonsky: What do you anticipate the results will be? When will we start to see an impact?
Yancey: We will educate entrepreneurs about the benefits of broadband, provide free and affordable resources to help them get online, and show how broadband can help businesses make a better connection to their customers. We hope to start seeing results next year.
Learn more about The Broadband Plan at www.broadband.gov.
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