Research shows that broadband access can boost a community’s economy and quality of life, but only if people take advantage of that access. To meet this need, the University of Missouri Extension has created a volunteer group of Missouri Digital Ambassadors who will work with their communities and help individuals and groups realize the benefits of broadband.
Joe Lear, a consultant for the University of Missouri System Broadband Initiative, says that the goal is to turn fear of uncertainty and doubt (FUD) to the fear of missing out (FOMO).
Individuals in communities where high-speed internet access has long been limited or nonexistent may b hesitate to dive into the online world, Lear says. They may be uncertain about how broadband will help them, have valid concerns about cybersecurity, or simply not know how to get started.
“We want to create a group of local folks who can answer community members’ questions: how much bandwidth they need, how you get connected, what other things are online besides streaming and gaming applications,” he says.
Missouri Digital Ambassadors will also be able to help users clear financial hurdles to broadband access through programs that subsidize internet access or provide affordable hardware, says Noah Washburn an University of Missouri Extension state extension and engagement specialist.
The program launches this spring with pilot projects in Kansas City and Nodaway County. To become certified Missouri Digital Ambassadors, volunteers receive 14 hours of in-person training. Working through community partners such as libraries, schools, senior centers, and civic groups, Digital Ambassadors will share their knowledge (in group settings and one-on-one interactions) on a variety of topics including telehealth, online job searches, videoconferencing, cybersecurity, social media, cloud resources, and document applications such as Google Docs and Office 365.
The Missouri Digital Ambassadors program is based on programs such as Missouri Master Gardeners, in which gardening enthusiasts receive extensive training and are able to share what they know with other gardeners in a variety of settings, says Washburn.
Those interested in becoming a Digital Ambassador don’t have to be an information technology expert, Lear says. “We are interested in people who want to learn more and assist people in their communities. IT pros are welcome, but it is not a requirement.”
If you’re interested in participating in the Missouri Digital Ambassadors pilot programs in Kansas City and Nodaway County, please contact Noah Washburn at email@example.com or 573.882.7781.
Noah Washburn, State Extension and Engagement Specialist
University of Missouri Extension