As I write this, I am on a plane flying back from Oklahoma where I was visiting OneNet, the Oklahoma Regional Research and Education Network (REN). I am always struck by the challenges the larger state RENs have in just reaching their member sites, not only with physical connections but with the necessary face to face sessions necessary to move projects along. Even though I am a massive fan of technology, I still think there is strength in face to face communications. OneNet is challenged to visit their members even once a year. Even with videoconferencing, they are at a disadvantage compared to RI when looking at designing and implementing statewide programs and projects. The question is, have we taken advantage?
I am convinced RI doesn’t view its size as an asset nor does it take advantage of what can be done given the fact that we can pretty much get anywhere in the state in 30 minutes. We have wonderful opportunities to drive efficiency statewide leveraging our infrastructure to reduce duplication while driving use of underutilized assets. Moreover, we have the opportunity to design new and innovative statewide services for areas like Adult Education, Healthcare and Municipalities. Imagine if we looked at serving the 34 non-profits dedicated to educating our adult learners with proper broadband connectivity and access to a statewide learning management system and teaching tools. Imagine a statewide healthcare network that reached nursing homes with the latest in tele-medicine technology thereby reducing ambulance rolls and emergency room visits. Imagine helping the municipalities statewide with connectivity, consolidated hosting, on-line services and disaster recovery architectures.
Sometimes our size can work against us in trying to obtain grant money for connectivity. Right now the FCC is prioritizing rural areas for investment in broadband and there is very little turf in RI classified as such. However, that should not stop us from looking at these opportunities at a statewide level. These types of initiatives work to the heart of topics that are on the minds of everyone I talk to here in little ole Rhody: workforce development, Improved healthcare outcomes, reduced costs and in turn, economic advantage. I am feeling the buzz building with respect to the "can do" attitudes necessary to support initiatives like these here in the state. I have longed for the day when we move from the proverbial "fellowship of the miserable" to this kind of optimism. Are you detecting a change?
Sing with me now….”We're the biggest little state in the union, Rhode Island, Rhode Island”