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Smart Growth

Cool & Connected: Nine Actions for Success

How small towns can use broadband to revitalize Main Streets, create economic opportunity, and protect the natural environment

Through the Cool & Connected planning assistance program, EPA and USDA helped 21 small towns to leverage local broadband service to attract investment and people. Each town developed strategies and an action plan, engaging local businesses, residents, and organizations to expand the use of broadband and recognize its importance in diversifying their economies. The action plans typically emphasized ways to bring people and investment to Main Streets, creating opportunities for higher economic returns and the potential to protect the natural environment by focusing development in compact, walkable neighborhoods.

The results of the Cool & Connected program suggested several particular approaches that small towns can consider as they work to expand and leverage their broadband service. These lessons can help communities deploy federal and other available funds for broadband in ways that revive the local economy while also protecting the environment.

  • View of downtown Montrose, Colorado, in the eveningMontrose, Colorado, is encouraging more diverse housing types and walkability downtown, leveraging high-capacity broadband in the city's core.Consider establishing municipal broadband service, focusing on high-quality service for downtown, central neighborhoods, and low-income residents. Municipally chartered internet providers can offer affordable service and help ensure communities can align broadband service with community goals, including downtown revitalization.
  • Whatever your level of internet service, ensure your entrepreneurs, especially downtown businesses, are using online platforms. Create peer learning networks to demystify internet sales and marketing. While Main Street businesses of all kinds should be making use of any available service, higher-speed service can offer even more opportunities, especially for businesses that operate primarily online.
  • Establish publicly available WiFi downtown at centrally located schools, libraries, and public facilities, and at key attractions like popular outdoor recreation facilities.
  • Tell the world you're open for business. Brand your community, highlighting broadband access along with your lively downtown and authentic local amenities. Tell your unique story to everyone, including local residents who might not recognize all of your assets as well as potential visitors and new residents.
  • Coordinate social media so your town presents itself with a clear identity. Encourage business and other networks to use common branding in social media. Every community member can be a powerful ambassador.
  • Peavey Library in Eastport, MaineEastport, Maine, is expanding service for young people and for adults to continue their education at the historic downtown Peavey Library, which has publicly available broadband.As part of marketing your community, target people who can telework and could be attracted to bring their families and investments to your town. You have awesome things that other places don't have. Ensure that your community's teleworkers have a peer network to give feedback on their needs and to create buzz.
  • Educate and encourage your kids in the physical and online worlds. Welcome them to have fun outdoors and in public facilities and businesses in your internet-connected downtown. Get kids, especially kids from economically disadvantaged families, coding, creating online businesses, and learning internet marketing techniques beginning in elementary school.
  • Skip the app. Prioritize making your municipal websites and travel and tourism websites friendly to mobile devices. Develop an app only if you have ample resources to maintain it and ample demand.
  • Convene people to make community decisions, making special efforts to hear from those who don't typically participate in community meetings. Develop strategies and a plan with the specific actions your community will take to use broadband to support Main Street and create economic opportunities.

Learn more about Cool & Connected and read some of the stories of communities that participated in the program.