October 1997 // Volume 35 // Number 5 // Ideas at Work // 5IAW4

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Pooling Resources in the Information Age

Many communities may appear to lack human and financial resources required to enable access to the Internet. CE offices are well suited to bring local stakeholders and community members together to share knowledge, assess needs, and learn about Internet opportunities. Tioga County Cooperative Extension of New York established an Internet consortium to understand and meet community Internet needs. Some basic issues and consortium initiatives are detailed.

Daniel J. Tennessen
Extension Faculty
Cornell University
Ithaca, New York
Internet Address: djt6@cornell.edu

Steven PonTell
Director, La Jolla Institute
Claremont, California

Van Romine
La Jolla Institute
Claremont, California

Suzanne W. Motheral
Internet Consortium Coordinator
Cornell Cooperative Extension
Owego, New York

There are many opportunities for Cooperative Extension (CE) and for local communities to benefit from the Internet and compete in the information age (Tennessen, PonTell, Romine & Motheral, 1997). However, many communities may appear to lack human and financial resources required to enable access to the Internet. Creativity will be required to attain these needed resources.

Local CE is perhaps best positioned to facilitate synergistic alliances within local communities because local CE staff understand the specific education and work-related needs, resources, and stakeholders of its community. What can CE do to better prepare communities for the information age? According to PonTell and Murphy (1996), to develop a community that fully utilizes the Internet, people must: (a) identify trends that are impacting the community's future economic and intellectual competitiveness; (b) assess community ability to provide Internet access points for people without computers; and (c) survey the community's human and economic infrastructure.

Identification of trends may be seen as a daunting task, considering that change in some communities, and in Internet technology itself, is occurring at a rapid pace. However, in every community there are people with some ideas and knowledge about the Internet and about how they might use it in their work or education. One strategy for pulling together the right people and creating synergy that will enable many small communities and their members to access the Internet is to develop an Internet consortium.

In rural upstate New York, CE of Tioga County has developed an Internet telecommunication consortium of local businesses and a variety of other stakeholders. The group has developed a web page (Tioga County CE, 1996) and email listserv to generate and maintain local interest and ownership in the technology. The existence of this consortium and grass roots initiative has attracted an Internet source provider and resulted in a local POP (point of presence) server in the local public library.

Community access is critical for promoting the technology and improving proficiency of local community members in its use. Access is commonly possible through a local community building or library. In some cases, "cyber-cafes" will sell you a cup of coffee and some time on the Internet. These outlets could also serve the need of "telecommuters" who work from their homes but who miss the social interaction an office provides (Becker, Quinn, & Callentine, 1994, Becker & Tennessen, 1995).

The mixing of novice and experienced Internet users may bolster use of computers by skeptical new users. An Internet consortium might be able to bring together a coffee shop owner with an Internet provider or computer firm. In the case of Tioga County, the regional library system began to work with individual town libraries and the Internet consortium members. Youth and adults can now access information via the Internet and the World Wide Web at their local library. Cooperation between other CE offices and their local libraries has been shown to improve services of these organizations (Pinkerton & Glazier, 1993) by broadening services and information resources.

Through the consortium in Tioga County, critical human resources and infrastructure were uncovered that stimulated development of the county Web page and growth of local Internet activity. By working together through the consortium, the community realized a greater affordability of Internet access with reduced phone charges. Local access also improved quality and speed of Internet activity through the local server.

To address the need for equipment and trained Internet users, Internet consortiums can also search for linkages between local people, business, and institutions. For example, some technical help in Tioga County has come by way of an Internet service provider, a nearby university, determined computer hobbyists, and owners of computer businesses.

It is important to incorporate local participants in such an effort because ownership and responsibility are important factors for development of a viable community Internet initiative (PonTell & Murphy, 1996). By its very nature, the local Internet consortium did just that. Tioga County's consortium developed a nucleus of people that fueled an ongoing effort to establish and use the Internet in a rural area.

Other counties might spur local interest by hosting "brown bag lunches" or "drop-in sessions". Such lunches have been useful to increase Internet utilization at a university library (Lazewiski, 1995) where prospective users gained familiarity and appreciation for Internet resources in their community. In Tioga county, several informational meetings were held and individual educators, workers, and employers were encouraged to attend. Some of the first attendees were individuals who owned companies in the area and understood that the Internet was important, but who have never had access to it. These meetings gave them ideas on how it would work for them and generated more interest.

By participating in the consortium, local CE staff and stakeholders achieved some level of proficiency with the Internet and related tools for work and learning. This improved communication between CE and its stakeholders and instilled local ownership in the technology. Following the monthly meetings of the consortium, the local CE leadership was better able to assess the community's needs for Internet resources and local community members had an expanded vision of how the Internet might help with their businesses. The Tioga County Telecommunications Consortium is continuing to assess its needs and resources to achieve Internet access for their community.

There are many other strategies that might be useful for promoting Internet access and use in local communities. Some Extension offices have learned that simple and outmoded computers can function as Internet servers, being limited primarily by their hard drive space, not their speed (Sittler, 1996). Thus an older computer could be improved with an upgraded hard drive and used as a server for community information. The visibility of a consortium could be useful for promoting donations of equipment and time. Some computers may be donated by industry.

Once the Web page is set up, volunteers can be sought to help manage the server (Britton, 1995). Cornell University is developing a server to host county Extension office pages, youth education information, and academic and industry information relevant to New York. This state-wide Internet access point might at least enable some counties to establish a Web page. However, without local ownership it may be difficult for county offices to gain community support.

In summary, CE offices are well suited to bring local stakeholders and community members together to share knowledge, assess needs, and learn about Internet opportunities. An Internet consortium can be initiated through a county Extension office to attract people with Internet needs, computer resources, technological experience, and know-how for setting up Internet access points in community locations.


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Becker, F., Tennessen, C.M. (1995). Social connectivity and the mobile workplace. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University, International Workplace Studies Program.

Britton, C.J. (1995). Agricultural information via the Cleveland free-net. Journal of Agriculture & Food Information, 3,49-64.

Lazewiski, B. (1995). Internet resources in agriculture: favorite sources of an Internet trainer. Journal of Agriculture & Food Information, 3,57-64.

Pinkerton, J.R., & Glazier, J.D. (1993). A study of Extension cooperation with public libraries. Journal of Extension, 31(2).

PonTell, S., & Murphy, P.S. (1996). Guidebook for SMARTCommunitiesTM. Ontario, CA: Center for the new west.

Sittler, P.M. (1996). Leviathan: An Extension service information server. Journal of Agriculture & Food Information, 3,83-90.

Tennessen, D.J., PonTell, S., Romine, V., Motheral, S. W., (1997) Opportunities for Cooperative Extension and local communities in the information age, Journal of Extension, 35:(5).

Tioga County Cooperative Extension (1996). The Telecommunications Consortium World Wide Web. http://munex.arme.cornell.edu/tioga,(Note : As of May 3,2001 this web page is no longer available), Owego, New York.