Taking a Broader View of Broadband

It’s not as though small businesses aren’t Internet-driven. Indeed, the web is ever-present. It just may not be used right, with many small-business owners using broadband connections to check e-mail or surf the web, rather than to tap a potential customer base.

So, backed with funding from the government and some tech companies, SCORE, the non-profit that provides free counseling and advice to entrepreneurs and business owners, is trying to teach small-business owners of the "broader" reach of broadband.

“Only a small percentage of small businesses use the tools available via broadband to help run their businesses,” said Ken Yancey, chief executive at Washington D.C.-based SCORE, which has 364 offices nationwide. “A lot of small businesses don’t employ the Internet in their business.”

SCORE, in conjunction with the Federal Communications Commission, the U.S. Small Business Administration and a number of large technology companies, has created a consortium to get the word out about the value of broadband. The group was formed in response to the government’s broadband plan, which aims to make available to at least 100 million U.S. homes affordable access to download speeds of at least 100 megabits per second and actual upload speeds of at least 50 megabits per second.

The SCORE consortium initially plans to hold online workshops to 1) train small-business owners on broadband access and e-commerce, 2) conduct regional training events to introduce broadband and 3) distribute free how-to materials and tools with tips and strategies for e-commerce. The consortium founders are donating discounted services, applications, training content, train-the-trainer assistance and funding to the initiative.

The idea is to increase digital literacy among small businesses, boost Web skills and e-commerce capabilities and push the use of online community tools. Small businesses need to know how to better use social networks, Internet-based video conferencing and cloud computing to better run their business and reach potential new customers, Yancey said.

“Today, business plans don’t include an Internet strategy,” he said. “That’s a huge hole in the business. We believe we can provide greater education to our counselors and they can serve their small business constituencies much better.”

There’s a financial impact to more effective broadband use. Many small businesses think they need to raise more capital, but they can actually just improve their cash flow through higher broadband-driven sales. And broadband can reduce the cost of acquiring new customers, particularly by maximizing the communities social networking bring to the Web.

In addition to the government and SCORE, the consortium includes Best Buy, Cisco, AT&T, Constant Contact and Google. While it may seem self-serving of the companies -- after all they do sell products and services for the Internet -- Yancey said the true motivation is belief in the need for more small businesses to use broadband to help improve the economy.

“A stronger economy is going to result from small business owners, more businesses created and more people being put to work,” said Yancey, noting the companies won’t be pushing their product but creating awareness about what’s possible with broadband.

The consortium is in the early stages but small business owners should start to see content available in about 60 days, available on SCORE’s Web site at www.score.org.