More Reflections on Net Inclusion 2023

In last week’s edition of Broadband Bytes, Curtis Dean and Todd Kielkopf shared their perspectives on CBAN’s participation in the Net Inclusion 2023 event in San Antonio early this month. This week, we hear from our third co-founder Jon Anne Willow and our Digital Navigator Brianna Dillavou.
Jon Willow – Even more committed after Net Inclusion 2023


When Curtis, Todd, and I started brainstorming CBAN in late 2017, the future of broadband looked a little different than it does today. President Trump’s still-in-play infrastructure bill had iced out broadband improvements, even though 30 million (or more) Americans languished in the Digital Divide without access to fast, affordable internet service. Communities around the country – especially in rural areas – felt like they were on their own, and some were looking for ways to bring local broadband solutions to their residents. 
We saw a path with CBAN, envisioning a member organization of stakeholders across the broadband spectrum who, guided by CBAN’s road map, could collaborate and learn from each other, thus facilitating broadband access at the grassroots level. The membership has grown to 140 members (currently) in 19 states, and that growth continues. It’s accelerating, in fact.
Meanwhile, another group (many other groups, to be fair) was hard at work on the equity piece. Equity is more than access, it’s also about affordability and teaching the skills everyone needs to fully participate in the modern world. The National Digital Inclusion Alliance (NDIA) was formed in 2015 as part of the larger PAST Foundation. They quickly gained traction and developed close relationships in the fast-growing digital equity space, and with the National Telecommunications and Information Agency (NTIA). In August of 2022, CBAN received an NDIA grant to be one of 18 organizations around the country to pilot a program envisioned to become the National Digital Navigator Corps. It lit a new fire within us, and we’re learning, growing, and more focused than ever on our work and mission.
Fast forward to Net Inclusion 2023, a gathering of over 800 broadband zealots like ourselves, held a few weeks ago on San Antonio’s charming river walk during an especially nice run of weather (sunny, 80s). The CBAN crew spent four days in the company of like-minded folks working every day to make a real difference in our communities. It seems everyone is doing things a little differently according to the needs of their surroundings, and some of us are trying things that have never been done before. It was exciting! I stayed up late every night, deep in conversations with other attendees about a brighter future, exchanging stories and filling notebooks with ideas for CBAN’s programs. I jumped up early every morning, eager to get back into the fray. Now, I have new friends to call on and new ideas to road test for CBAN members and the communities we serve. I couldn’t be more energized, or grateful to be doing this work.

Brianna Dillavou – Putting Net Inclusion to work


Net Inclusion 2023 in San Antonio was a pivotal event in my Digital Navigator career to date. Sessions including asset mapping, community engagement, and telehealth were my main focus. I set out to make connections and learn best practices. This event did not disappoint! It was great to finally meet colleagues in person. In the tech world, so much of our communication is done through technology. Being able to have a dialogue, troubleshoot, and relate to a peer was probably the most beneficial part of the conference.

While our trip back to Iowa was its own adventure, I was able to enhance my Digital Navigator “toolkit” in a way that will allow me to better serve our communities. I look forward to putting the best practices I learned at the conference into play in Iowa. We now have a better understanding of resources, how to build a digital ecosystem, and the impact that Digital Inclusion has on rural communities.