Ambiguity and Uncertainty in the “Last Mile”: Using Sense-making to Explore How Rural Broadband Networks Are Created

Marco Adria, Dan Brown

Abstract


Broadband technology has captured the attention of many stakeholders, nations, and governments throughout the world as a “nation building” infrastructure enabling the future economic prosperity and improved living standards for many communities. Broadband networks are an important means by which rural communities around the world can gain access to global networks of knowledge and communication. They are also a means by which nation-states and regions seek to increase their economic and cultural sovereignty. Rural broadband can therefore be seen as a critical nexus between global and local flows of both capital and ideas.In 2005, the provincial government of Alberta in Canada completed a significant investment into the construction of a unique high-speed, high-capacity fiber-optic network connecting rural communities throughout the province. The network was the first of its kind in the world in terms of the advantages it represented for rural individuals to benefit from easy access to broadband. Paradoxically, as of 2008 Alberta was ranked last among Canadian provinces for rural broadband access. This article examines how ambiguity and uncertainty faced by industry decision-makers and broadband stakeholders contribute to the adoption of broadband by rural communities. Interviews were conducted with industry decision-makers. Through the application of Weick’s sensemaking framework, several areas of ambiguity and uncertainty are identified related to rural broadband adoption. A primary finding is that self-fulfilling prophecies about the broadband network's construction and use developed through collective sensemaking processes, resulting in an immobilizing effect on the development of rural broadband's "effective use" by communities.

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The Journal of Community Informatics. ISSN: 1712-4441