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Empowering Appalachia Through Connectivity and Learning

Affordable broadband, coupled with early childhood learning and entrepreneurial/technical training, unlocks new promise for Appalachia.

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*Please Upload User Experience Map (as attachment) and any additional Beneficiary Feedback in this field

Value chain feedback: 1. County Economic Development leader: Anxious to get started. "There are still parts of the county that have no connectivity at all." Very interested in emergency connectivity possible because of Concero's solar powered units. 2. School District Superintendent: READY to go! (see attached letter) 3. Three parents of pre-school aged children (2 mothers, 1 father) : Very favorable. Suggested improvements to the processes/materials introducing UPSTART to potential parents.

Explain your project idea in two sentences.

We overcome economic/technical challenges in rural connectivity & build demand via online early learning to address the huge digital disadvantage experienced by the 39% of Americans lacking broadband.

What is your organization name? Explain your organization in one sentence.

Appalachia Empowerment Collaborative brings hope and opportunity through affordable connectivity.

Is this project idea new for you or your organization? If no, how much have you already executed on?

Concero did prior grant-based projects in Latin America/Navajo Nation but now, with Intelsat special pricing, improved wireless technology, and online learning models to jump-start demand, can be sustainable. UPSTART is 7 yrs old and proven effective in Utah and Ohio. Integrating the 2 ideas is new.

What is the problem you aim to solve with this idea? How would you define this problem as urgent and a priority in your target community?

Rural areas lack connectivity since broadband usually depends on a high volume of users to spread costs. By lowering capital & operating costs, especially costs of satellite signal, rural people get access to critical education, health, jobs, and economic benefits - and build hope.

What is the timeline for your project idea? What are the key steps for implementation in the next 1-3 years?

Year 1: Provide broadband & early learning in 2 rural communities to demonstrate affordable/sustainable satellite/wireless connectivity, and show that early learning builds demand; work with an existing WISP Year 2: Produce evaluations of Year 1 of the early learning program to support its spread across the region. Begin spreading integrated approach to other locations. Raise $500K to start the Network Engineering Program/Concord WISP. Year 3: Graduate the first CNEs; Add more counties

Describe the individual or team that will implement this idea (if a partnership, please explain breakdown of responsibility).

Collaborators: Ashoka (Anne Evans)/Concero Connect (David Stephens): technical/strategic leadership/support & special Intelsat pricing; UPSTART (Anne Brown) learning collaboration; Concord University (Dan Fitzpatrick): establish Network Engineering and ISP Entrepreneur certif. program and WISP

What do you need the most support with in this project idea?

  • Other: Please Say in Final Question of this Submission Form

What is your primary goal over the next 6 weeks of Refinement?

  • Iterate or improve on my product/service

How do you currently measure (or plan to measure) results for this project?

1. Users experiencing the technology give good feedback; digital analytics confirm use 2. # of households subscribing to affordable broadband; # households covered by affordable broadband 3. Data analytics: progress of the 200 children enrolled in UPSTART 4. WISP is financially and technically sound at Concord University 5. # of candidates enrolled in the Certified Network Engineer (CNE) program at Concord U; feedback of grads 6. Demand from other locations

How has your project proposal changed due to your user research during the Beneficiary Feedback Phase?

1. Demonstrated success in two counties seems key to raising funds for the Engineering program at Concord. Therefore, we plan to start broadband/early learning in 2 rural counties (possibly 1 in NC identified in stakeholder interviews-see letter) and defer starting the engineering program until funds are raised. 2. Fine-tuning materials used to offer potential for free Internet and computer.

(Optional) What are some of your still unanswered questions or concerns about this idea?

We seek a partner to donate or loan $250K in capital for the WISP demonstration projects in 2 counties. Additionally, a grant of $250K is required to match Waterford's early learning investment of $350K. Once established the model is sustainable. The need to bridge the digital divide is so well understood that a fully documented/publicized demonstration of success will likely unlock the partnerships and capital to implement in other locations. Concero profits go to its social purpose mission.

During this Improve Phase, please use the space below to add any additional information to your proposal.

The major changes in our proposal address the following topics: 1. How we identify "trusted community members" and the qualities we seek in them. 2. How this idea considers users needs--starts with the people we're designing for and ends with tailored solutions. 3. Affordability of a service at approximately $30/month for the population in Appalachia. 4. Data on the efficacy of the UPSTART approach 5. How the equipment investment and everyday use will be leveraged to gain other benefits. 6. How this project will be made sustainable. We made the changes by adding sections to our "full description" section, providing more user feedback stories, and by adding images and attachments.
  1. (NOTE:  Concero Connect, L3C has a special agreement with Intelsat that makes it possible to offer affordable, solar-powered broadband Internet anywhere in the world. Each implementation, however, may require different partners and funding. Please see other entries for related approaches our teams are offering to address the need for connectivity, financial inclusion and economic opportunity in Cuba and Mexico.)  

Appalachia Empowerment Collaborative

This idea is a social enterprise collaboration among non-profit and for-profit partners to support the spread of broadband and growth of economic and educational opportunity across Appalachia.  By integrating a social enterprise (Concero Connect) and an non-profit online early learning program (UPSTART) through our first implementations in two counties we will use learning and connectivity to bring hope and empowerment to Appalachia. Later with a technical educational program (Concord's Certified Network Engineering program,) this effort will put in place key technical education infrastructure to serve the region and, in the case of the broadband and early education components, create models that can be spread across Appalachia.

Our approach tackles the problem of isolation and hopelessness, declining educational attainment and the lack of alternative job opportunities in Appalachia in the wake of the coal industry's decline.  Insufficient workforce development/retraining and education opportunities in the region contribute to the continued hopelessness and lack of empowerment and self-confidence among people in Appalachia.

An Integrated Solution

The Appalachia Empowerment Collaborative addresses the challenges in Appalachia by  working with four integrated elements to create momentum for and support the spread of broadband and its employment, economic, educational and other benefits across the region.

  • AFFORDABLE CONNECTIVITY DEMONSTRATION: Demonstrating the potential for affordable broadband by installing the satellite and wireless equipment to provide connectivity for two underserved counties and by offering training and incentives that will drive usage, and the spread of the approach.
  • EDUCATIONAL BENEFITS AND INCENTIVES:  Offering a transformative early childhood learning program through our partner, Waterford Institute, which provides a unique, in-home technology-based program, UPSTART, to address the urgent educational needs of families with young children. As part of the program, in-home computers and Internet access are provided to families who need them - a key incentive for Internet adoption.  Concord University may help provide trained coaches to support the parents and ensure the success of the program.  A similar program may be available also to Head Start and similar centers, and we will facilitate connections to training for teachers in those programs as well in how to use the program.
  • CERTIFICATION PROGRAMS: Building a Certified Network Engineering (CNE) and ISP Entrepreneurship program at Concord University, including hands-on learning opportunities, internships, and jobs.
  • CONCORD Wireless Internet Service Provider (WISP): After the demonstrations are concluded we may establish a working WISP at Concord University that can serve as a training ground and future employer for CNE certificate candidates and prospective ISP entrepreneurs, and that can meet unmet broadband needs in the region.

Intersecting Peace, Prosperity and Planet


Our approach promotes peace by bringing to the people of Appalachia new hope, employment and education opportunities, and connection to the larger world. Appalachia has been plagued by hopelessness in the wake of a 2/3 reduction in the number of coal-related jobs since 1985.  The loss of these jobs and the lack of substitute or sufficient employment, has caused the exodus of young people, and an increase in anger, violence and the heartbreak associated with rising numbers of drug deaths and suicide.  

Bringing broadband connectivity to rural areas will promote prosperity at multiple levels (source: Appalachia Regional Commission):  
At the macro level:
• Increasing broadband access 10 percentage points increases Gross Domestic Product 1 percent
• Doubling broadband speeds for an economy can add 0.3 percent to GDP growth (Based on 2008 base year)
• 80 new jobs are created for every additional broadband 1,000 users
• Benefits of faster broadband can be categorized as:
–Economic effects, including increased innovation and productivity in business
–Social effects, including better access to services and improved healthcare
–Environmental effects, including more efficient energy consumption.

At the household level:
• Gaining 4 Mbps of broadband increases household income $2,100 per year
• Broadband speed upgrades affect development: Upgrading from 0.5 Mbps to 4 Mbps increases average incomes $322 per month
• Online job searches result in re-employment 25 percent faster than traditional searches 

• Broadband is associated with higher employment rates in rural counties."

Using sustainable, solar-powered satellite hub units we will promote the health of the planet by creating good jobs not tied to emissions-producing coal; unlike fiber projects which must dig near streams (the only place where there is flat land in WV) with the risk of soil loss and stream contamination, this project does not require digging of any trenches or running of any cables.   By enabling electronic communications we contribute to the reduction of wasteful paper-based systems.

How it Works

 Concero Connect L3C and Ashoka (see this video on our approach) in partnership with Concord University will establish a Network Engineering and ISP Entrepreneur certification program(s) and Concero will establish a local Wireless Internet Service Provider (WISP.)   Starting in the heart of coal country --and over the next two years -- we will demonstrate how a solar-powered integrated system of satellite and wireless connectivity can affordably serve even the most remote areas with difficult terrain. Operating as a social business, Concero Connect -- with a unique agreement with Intelsat that provides especially attractive pricing—has gathered the technology partners that can make this system operational and affordable (i.e., estimated average subscription of under $30 per month) for Broadband Internet (broadband as defined by the FCC), with some customers eligible for Lifeline discounts. 

By demonstrating a solution to providing affordable broadband coverage, we will open up demand for additional technical, education and job training from across Appalachia from other counties that wish to pursue our solution, and from individuals who wish to train or re-train as network engineers, sales and adoption facilitators or ISP entrepreneurs through the program at Concord University.  We will also demonstrate a highly effective program of online learning for families with young children that can be replicated throughout the region and motivate adoption of the new broadband service.   Participants in this effort will not only contribute to the creation of essential 21st century infrastructure for Appalachia, they will also develop the hope and self-confidence that will enable them to meet the challenges facing us across the region.

The Technology Solution

Concero Connect’s Community Builder unit (see picture provided) will serve as a solar-powered satellite broadband hub with WiFi extending connectivity across a several mile area using wireless point-to-point and point-to-multipoint connections (See survey provided) Cellular coverage will be possible from the same Community Builder Unit under roaming agreements reached with mobile providers, who will be motivated to make such agreements because of the opportunity to reach un-served customers will minimal additional cost outlays. 

Members of the community can access frequently used content (e.g., educational curricula, health information, entertainment, a community website) directly from the Cache Server at very high speeds (more than 100 Mbps) since that content is broadcast to the server by the satellite only once – not every time a person wishes to access it.

For emergency purposes, the solar panels and back-up batteries enable connectivity to be maintained even during electrical outages. The Community Builder has outlets where mobile phones and other equipment can be charged during an outage.  Should fiber come to the area, the Community Builder can be connected to the fiber, yet have its satellite connection remain available for emergency back up.

The capital cost for one Community Builder System is 8 to 10 times less expensive than a single cell tower. Recurring costs are also low because it is solar powered, and the recurring costs of broadband backhaul provided by Intelsat are at a discount under a special agreement with Concero Connect, L3C as a social business.

Cost, Affordability and Perceived Value

Any added expense for a poor family is a concern.  Therefore, we have worked to understand whether a price just under $30 will be considered affordable and valuable enough to warrant the cost.  We have approached this question in 2 ways. 

  • Through our user interviews
  • Through research


User Interviews

We tested the $30 price point in our user interviews and while two of the people interviewed expressed some mild concern about the price, the comments we got included such phrases as “it is just so important for my kids to have Internet I would figure it out” and “my kids need it and it affects every aspect of life these days – like electricity.  I would be using it too!”

Because Concero Connect is a social business additional revenue-generating applications that can operate via broadband Internet, such as telemedicine and mobile money, might permit Concero to lower the price of its connectivity.  That is in fact our goal. However, because those additional revenue sources are speculative at this point, we have had to design our economic model to be sustainable based purely on subscriber revenue.


Clearly family income is a factor in determining whether a family has access to a computer and the Internet. Another key factor in Internet use is the lack of any access to Internet services in some rural areas. In West Virginia, approximately 30% of the population is considered underserved by broadband and mostly in rural areas. However, there is evidence that poor families are increasingly seeing the value of Internet and spending money on it.   FCC research from 2010 indicated that 40% of families earning $10-20,000 per year and 59% of families earning $20-40,000 per year were online. A few years later, 2012 Census data showed that 54.7 % of families earning under $25,000 per year and 74.5% earning $25-$49,000 per year had Internet access at home.

To help poor families with these costs, in 2016 the FCC updated its Lifeline program (originally applicable only to phone service) to provide a $9.25 discount on Internet service to families with incomes under 135% of the Federal poverty line, or receiving benefits under the following programs:


Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (Food Stamps or SNAP)

Supplemental Security Income

Federal Public Housing Assistance (Section 8)

Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program

Temporary Assistance to Needy Families

National School Lunch Program's Free Lunch Program

Bureau of Indian Affairs General Assistance

Tribally-Administered Temporary Assistance for Needy Families

Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations

Head Start (if income eligibility criteria are met)

State assistance programs (if applicable

Median annual household income in Wyoming County, WV at the last census was $33,730.   28.2 % of families in WV are living in poverty (i.e., per Census Bureau = in 2016 earning less than $24,339 for a family of four) and data from 2015 suggest that 22.8% of Wyoming County residents are living in poverty. It is likely, therefore, that many families in Wyoming County would qualify for the Lifeline benefit.   However, the availability of Internet is also a continuing issue since the 20% of the Wyoming County residents who live in rural areas have no access to Internet even at very slow speeds.

In addition, Research in 2011 by the Internet Innovation Alliance suggested that an average U.S. household earning $62,481 per year, after factoring in Internet costs of $490/year (at approximately $40/month) could save $7,200 per year by using the Internet to obtain discounts, sales and other opportunities only available to people online.  The current poverty threshold of $24,339 is 39% of the average 2011 U.S. household income cited above.  If 39% of the Internet savings of $7,200 of the average family were achieved by a poor family, that would be $2,808 in annual savings – more than enough to offset the cost of $30/month Internet ($360/year.)  This calculation of course does not quantify the important, but more difficult to measure, benefits of online job searches, distance learning, telehealth, and other such key uses of the Internet. 

Part of the adoption effort we undertake will help residents see the value of the Internet in saving money, in accessing services, health and other critical information, in finding job opportunities and even creating means of self-employment. When families see how important online learning is for their children, and how useful broadband is in their own lives, we believe the $30 per month (approx. $20 if Lifeline eligible) will not deter them from continuing to subscribe on their own.  This belief is borne out in a 2009 Study by the FCC that shows that (8 years ago) “Non-adopters concerned with cost would be willing to pay, on average, $25 per month for broadband.”  We believe, therefore, that if we can price just under $30/month it will be perceived as affordable and a good value by the users.

Workforce Development and Educational Opportunity as Critical Elements

Without a highly educated workforce, previously coal-dependent areas are unlikely to attract the industries offering the best jobs for people, and for the growth and diversity of Appalachian economies. Adults currently seeking options outside the coal industry/value chain lack the attractive job opportunities, virtual employment options, and e-commerce tools that broadband can bring. Distance job training and learning opportunities in a wide variety of fields, that could help Appalachian residents bridge the workforce gap, are now readily available online, but aren’t accessible by many in Appalachia because of the lack of broadband.

The workforce education/opportunity gap begins earlier and earlier. Children in areas not served by broadband – or whose families cannot afford it – miss the learning opportunities and connection to a larger world that the Internet offers. Lack of broadband Internet at home causes children in rural areas or in poverty to fall farther behind their age cohort as more and more of their homework requires a reliable, high-speed Internet connection.

These factors make it essential to create a broadband option suitable to the low density and mountainous character of Appalachia.  Such a system will require technically qualified individuals to install, run and maintain the system – yet no focused program exists in the region to provide that necessary training. Therefore, we need to create a technical education center that can train Certified Network Engineers (CNEs) who understand and can implement an affordable satellite/wireless broadband across the region.

We believe infrastructure and skills need to be developed simultaneously.  Without broadband Internet access to stimulate job growth, support market development by existing businesses, build marketable skills and attract new industry, there will be a continuing lack of diversity in local economies that will make it difficult for communities to recover from their dependence on coal. Once such a training capacity is created and its graduates are actively working to install broadband Internet across the region, we can expect significant positive results.  

Demand for Trained CNEs

 It is important to note that there is very high demand for Certified Network Engineers throughout the entire nation, and increasingly in the Appalachia region.  In areas such as Boston, Seattle, Tampa, Atlanta and Dallas salaries are in the $70-$75,000 range (per with 10-40% more jobs posted than resumes provided.

According to the Occupational Network (O*Net), Telecommunication Engineering Specialists, such as our Certified Network Engineers, are among the top 20 technical occupations in the US. Such jobs are listed as having a “bright outlook” with projected job growth in the 9 to 13% range annually. These jobs are listed in the new and emerging jobs category, are in one of the top categories (Professional, Scientific, and Technical Services), and offer high wages, based upon data from the O*Net. (Source:

We expect many individuals who want to be employees or start their own ISP will come to Concord to get the Certifications they need.  The Concord Internship Program will not only help create more CNE’s across the region and increase tuition at Concord, but will encourage other Appalachia counties to bring broadband connectivity where there is none today, thereby increasing demand for CNEs.  With the training and certification of CNE’s offered by Concord, the path to bringing broadband to Appalachia will be dramatically accelerated in a cost-effective manner that suits the needs of the region.

Adoption: UPSTART’s Online Learning System  - Building Demand and Funding for Broadband: 

One of the best ways to ensure adoption of new technology is by offering strong incentives to use the technology.  As adults learn new ways of working, their children will need to adapt to new ways of learning.  By partnering with the Waterford Institute and its UPSTART program, we can provide a multi-part incentive:

  • A free Chromebook for qualifying families
  • An online education system to ensure that their young children will be ready for school  
  • Free Internet service for one year

By immediately providing a use for the computer  (i.e., early childhood learning) that delivers clear value to families, word of mouth will travel quickly and others will be interested in learning more about how they can use the computer to meet their needs. In addition, through Waterford Institute’s unique commitment to providing connectivity for users of its UPSTART program, the Institute contributes to the costs of bringing broadband to our test bed areas.

UPSTART is a unique, in-home technology-based program created by the non-profit Waterford Institute to address the urgent educational needs of families with young children.  Partnering with parents, UPSTART works to ensure school readiness for children in the year before Kindergarten.

At the heart of UPSTART is an exciting, personalized digital learning program that children use for 15 minutes a day, 5 days a week. UPSTART is designed for very young children. It uses large buttons, obvious directions, and support to help children progress. Each child moves through a personalized learning path that is designed to meet his or her skills and needs. UPSTART captivates children with thousands of activities, beautiful art, lively characters and catchy songs. It also increases their confidence, independence and computer skills while they master essential pre-reading concepts. Many children can’t wait to “play UPSTART” every day!

All participants receive training and commit to using the program for 15 minutes a day, 5 days a week the year before their child enters kindergarten. Qualifying families that need computer and Internet are provided with these to use during the program. Children start using the program at home immediately after training. Most children can use the program independently within 20 minutes of starting and it can be used at home, according to their schedule.

UPSTART also provides local community-based support provided by trained, dedicated representatives who regularly interact with parents and children to ensure that they are successful using the program.  In this case, Concord University may be able to provide students from its highly respected education program to perform this work (estimate = 2 jobs per county.)

With its focus on academic preparation, especially in reading, UPSTART is also effective as a complement to other programs, including traditional preschool, daycare, and Head Start programs. The Child Development Center at Concord University is one such center that might use the program.  Similarly, the CASE program that runs Head Start in southern West Virginia (including Wyoming County) may have other centers that will be able to participate. 

The software assesses the child's progress at key milestones to determine what type of instruction each child will receive. Every family is partnered with a Personal Care Representative who monitors their child’s progress throughout the year. Families have access to live help by phone or email 6 days per week. Families will receive a weekly email with program info, off-line learning activity suggestions, and a usage report. Families will be contacted if their child's usage falls below guidelines.

 The UPSTART program ends with a graduation that celebrates the children’s achievements. Graduation events take place during the summer just before the end of the program. In addition to the party, children take a final assessment to measure their learning gains.

The broadband connectivity and tablet/Chromebook type devices provided to households with pre-school children are just one way to leverage equipment and everyday usage for education.  In our initial challenge entry we indicated that this program will also train and hire out of work miners, veteran, etc. to become Certified Network Engineers and have jobs installing and maintaining the rural wireless network, so there is significant potential employment leverage as well.   The same connectivity and devices that provide the UPSTART program for 15 minutes per day can be used for older students to take classes and do homework, for other members of the family to obtain work-from-home jobs, to create new home businesses, and many more options.

According to a 2015 Pew study, “Roughly two-thirds (69%) of Americans indicate that not having a home high-speed internet connection would be a major disadvantage to finding a job, getting health information or accessing other key information – up from 56% who said this in 2010.”  As mentioned in our response to Question # 4, part of the adoption process we envision is to help people understand the many benefits of having a home broadband connection, including tele-health and mobile money. We also anticipate working in partnership with such organizations and Kelly Services and u-Aspire who have indicated an interest in bringing virtual employment opportunities to WV as part of this effort.

Evidence of UPSTART's Effectiveness

UPSTART has been externally studied since its inception by the Evaluation and Training Institute in a quasi-experimental design funded by the state of Utah, and it has shown to help pre-K children make significant and sustained gains in early literacy skills so that they arrive at Kindergarten ready to learn.

Most recently, as part of its “Investing in Innovation” (i3) grant, UPSTART’s impact on children’s early literacy skills was evaluated using a randomized control trial (RCT). Of the 497 four-year-old participants, half were randomly assigned to the UPSTART Reading software program with a recommended use of 15 minutes per day, five days a week. Students assigned to the control group participated in the UPSTART Math software program with identical usage requirements. The Brigance Inventory for Early Development was administered at baseline and a year later to assess early literacy skills: letter knowledge, phonological awareness, decoding, oral comprehension, visual and auditory discrimination, and oral language and vocabulary. Children in the treatment group scored 79.49 on the Brigance assessment at the end of the year compared to 69.74 for the control group, equating to an effect size of 0.42[1]. Further, students using UPSTART Reading (the treatment group) scored significantly higher than students in UPSTART Math on six of the eight Brigance subtests.

While there is not a longitudinal component of UPSTART’s RCT study, another external evaluator has tracked the performance of UPSTART students after they graduate the program. The findings suggest that UPSTART’s learning gains are sustained over time, with low-income 1st, 2nd, and 3rd grade alums of UPSTART scoring 10-20 percentage points higher than the statewide average for low-income students on the DIBELS exam, a measure of early literacy used in Kindergarten through 6th grades.

[1] The effect size is calculated as (Treatment group average performance – Control group average performance)/(Standard deviation in performance of both groups combined)

For further information, please see the full report done for the US Government’s Investing in Innovation (i3) grant program, titled:

Rural UPSTART Preschool Study:

Preliminary Evaluation Results for

Investing in Innovation (i3) Grant U411B130020

(the report is also provided as an attachment with our OpenIDEO entry.)

In addition, if you wish to contact the evaluator directly his information is:

Jon Hobbs, Ph.D.
President | Evaluation & Training Institute
(310) 473-8367, ext. 1

Please also see the Idaho Graduation Survey Results included as an attachment, which analyzes the views of parents whose children used UPSTART.

Key Players and User Feedback

The process of obtaining and incorporating user, stakeholder, and value chain feedback has been occurring in tandem with our effort to identify trusted community members. In North Carolina we recently identified a local partners in the Rowan-Salisbury School System (superintendent, CTO and other staff)  In West Virginia, our process of gathering user feedback has been underway for over a year.  We have proceeded carefully through a series of introductions that led to meetings, that then led to other introductions, and so on. 

Over a year ago we began building relationships through a series of in-person discussions in Wyoming County, McDowell, Mercer and Summers Counties, WV – all counties facing serious dislocation from the downturn in the coal industry. We also met or talked with State-level players in the Appalachia Regional Commission, the Governor’s, Senators’ and appropriate Congressional Representatives’ offices, the Economic Development and Commerce Departments, the State Parks, the new head of the WV Broadband Council, and key foundations active in West Virginia.  

The relationship building began with an introduction to a well-known native of West Virginia, who is a Policy/Advocacy consultant and alumnus of Concord University, and is partnering in our effort in Appalachia.   He in turn introduced us to the President of Concord University.  She then identified key staff members who were interested in this effort and we first met with them – which gave us initial feedback on our approach to describing our effort to others in WV.  Three key people from the university then worked closely with us to put us in touch with the appropriate people in the selected counties, to coordinate setting up meetings and, along with Concord’s President, they attended various of the meetings with us. In addition to getting stakeholder feedback, these meetings enabled us to assess the readiness of players in the various counties to partner with us in this effort. We met with Mayors, heads of Economic Development, Emergency Management and Tourism Departments, and the like.  Through these meetings we tested our way of describing our effort and iteratively fined-tuned our message and approach. We learned of the universal desire for an affordable broadband solution -  especially in the forgotten rural areas, the homework challenge young people face, the joblessness and difficulty in finding employment without connectivity, the lost opportunities in doing business without internet, and the keen interest of county officials in our emergency management application. (Concero’s solar powered community builder unit can keep the county connected even when normal power fails.)

As an example, one of the counties we discovered was most ready to partner was Wyoming County, WV.  Through Concord University we were put in touch with an alumna of the University who is also the Executive Director of the Wyoming County Economic Development Authority. She has been an ally in this effort since then.  To kick off the relationship building process in Wyoming County, this Economic Development Director sent an email out to 68 key players in the County – from the local emergency management staff, to the State Senator, to the tourism board, the technology director for the WV State Parks, and many others -  and a group of approximately 14 of these key players attended an in-person meeting with us in the offices of the Wyoming County Economic Development Authority. Since then, the larger group has been updated on our effort and asked for their feedback. The State Senator recently sent an enthusiastic note indicating she is committed to working on broadband for Wyoming County.  We also had follow up meetings with the State Parks’ technology director, toured a park with him in depth, and discussed options for their connectivity and the impact on the people living nearby.

Two user stories stand out that helped us understand the challenges of economic development without broadband.  Rivers and natural beauty are key assets of the Appalachia region and could be the basis for considerable economic activity with broadband in place.

Rafting Company Example: Local companies trying to attract customers face difficulty because they cannot take online reservations, only reservations by phone.  In addition, because there is little connectivity (even cellular) along the rivers, customers are reluctant to be in areas without the ability to get in touch with someone by cell phone in an emergency.  Add to this the fact that some small business people can’t get the banking relationships they need, and some of them must do business using checks or cash. (Small hotels and B & B’s face similar challenges.) 

Fishing Competition: We were told a story about a major global fishing competition that West Virginia’s fishing guides wanted to host since they have some of the best trout streams in the world.  However, because the judging was to be done with video, photos and measurements being communicated instantaneously online, West Virginia lost out on that opportunity. 

Prospective Value Chain Partners

We also identified potential commercial users of the broadband and met with them, including banks and health care providers.

We met with 3 banks (a local community bank, a regional bank, and global bank interested in an Appalachia presence) and discussed the potential for financial services using broadband Internet. Because of the connectivity gaps and lack of density in much of Appalachia, these players have felt stymied in how to economically address the needs of customers in Appalachia.  The regional bank does not feel able to take the lead in providing connectivity. They are looking for others to manage that challenge, then they will be interested in moving forward. The local bankers were painfully aware of the 31% (per FDIC) of West Virginians who are either unbanked or underbanked, and were enthusiastic in welcoming anyone who can help solve the region’s financial inclusion issues through digital means.  They would like to participate as they are able though they have limited means.  We are still in discussions with the global bank and they are examining the business opportunity they could obtain while helping bring connectivity and financial inclusion via mobile money to Appalachia. Discussions include the potential for using some of their Community Reinvestment Act (CRA) funding to provide loans for the capital costs of the broadband, especially since West Virginia’s new law HB3093 (effective July 7, 2017) allows for the State to insure loans made for broadband installation.

A hospital group we met with is very interested and willing to pay a per session fee for access to telemedicine customers in rural areas once they are connected.


In addition, as mentioned already in our submission, we sought out parents of 4 year olds to test the ideas around how to present the opportunity for combined early education and broadband and got very useful feedback for refining the recruitment materials. In addition, Waterford has surveyed parents extensively and their highly positive feedback is summarized in the attached chart .  Details are provided in the attached Idaho Graduation Survey results.

Complementing the parent feedback is the research with the actual children using UPSTART provided in as an attachment.

Identifying Trusted Individuals

Cultivating a cross-section of key community players – as we have done in Wyoming County and have begun recently in North Carolina - is key to our strategy for identifying individuals who are trusted within the community.  Among them, they know most of the people in the County and know who is trusted and who is not. With invitations to a list of trusted individuals to attend a briefing, we believe we could select the necessary number of adoption facilitators from among those who choose to attend.  In addition, through our connections at Concord University, we will be able to identify both current students and alumni of the University who are from these communities and may be interested in working as adoption facilitators.

Qualities of Trusted Individuals

We have been looking for individuals in the community who are respected and trusted by their fellow community members, motivated to improve opportunities for children and families in their county through broadband and education, and willing and able to put their energies into collaborating with us.

We look for people families know and trust and start by helping them understand the value of the program (both the broadband and UPSTART elements) so they will be comfortable providing introductions and forums where we can discuss the program with parents and other community members. For example, the following organizations/individuals have proven helpful in gaining enrollment for UPSTART (see also the list of community partners provided as an image):

  • Catholic Archdiocese and the Mexican Consulate.  The Consulate’s endorsement was a huge boon to the program in terms of enrollment among the Latino community. 
  • Head Start organizations with waiting lists or with families that came to them and didn’t qualify (“We can’t serve you at Head Start, but there’s another program I’d like to tell you about.  “Can I give them your phone number to call you to discuss it?”) 
  • Social service agencies such as Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) in Salt Lake provided their case workers with information about the program. 
  • Pediatricians and health clinics gladly handed out flyers once they understood how the program can serve families and help children prepare for school.
  • Librarians, particularly rural librarians looking for reading opportunities for the children they serve.
  • Faith Communities of all kinds, including priests, ministers, and nuns. (e.g., in Columbia, SC UPSTART worked with a large African American church when recruiting for that state pilot.)

Each of these types of players will be helpful as we identify the specific, well-regarded and reliable individuals in the community to serve as adoption facilitators working individually with families to support them in getting online.

Long-Term Sustainability

There are two areas to consider when discussing long-term sustainability.  First the sustainability of the preschool program.   The UPSTART program costs $2,000 per student per year for the program, the Internet connectivity and the Chromebook device. Today most states spend between $8,000 - $10,000 per student or more per child.  The state of Utah has had so much success with the UPSTART program that almost 50% of the preschool students in Utah will be enrolled in UPSTART this year--paid for by the State.

Waterford’s approach in spreading UPSTART is to bring donors to the table to support pilots in a selected state to build data proving UPSTART’s efficacy among that state’s population.  They then provide this information to state education authorities and legislators to encourage them to build UPSTART into their preschool funding plans.  Because so much of West Virginia is highly rural the 25% of children who are not attending pre-school are one prime target for usage of UPSTART. However, as the research shared shows, children attending pre-school also benefit significantly from the program.  Waterford has successfully used this approach this year in Indiana and South Carolina where legislators have included funding for home-based, technology-delivered school readiness programs to supplement what the states are already doing in early education.

The second area is the sustainability of the Broadband Internet connectivity. The broadband portion of our effort is sustainable through subscription revenue once the capital cost is paid. As mentioned above, we are also reaching out to banks and tele-medicine players to lay the groundwork for further revenue-generating opportunities that would assure sustainability of our effort and permit us to offer a free device (e.g., a phablet = phone/tablet) to each family that signs up for broadband.

Status of the Project

Continuing to work closely through extensive meetings with potential users and governmental entities in southern West Virginia (and recently in North Carolina), the key strategic partners above designed and refined their approach to address the needs identified, and are engaging in discussions with potential funders of the start-up costs. 

Key players in this effort are:

David Stephens, Co-Founder and CEO, Concero Connect, L3C (social business)

James Mayfield, Co-Founder and Adoption Expert, Concero Connect

Anne Evans, Leadership Group Member, Ashoka: Innovators for the Public

Kendra Boggess, President, Concord University

Daniel Fitzpatrick, Director, Human Resources and Appalachia Empowerment Collaborative, Concord University

Jon Osler, Director, Market Development, Intelsat 

Anne Brown, VP of Education and Business Development, Waterford Institute

A graphic has been provided depicting the key players who are added to our team as we progress with this effort.

Explain your idea

This idea is a collaboration among non-profit and for-profit partners to bring affordable broadband and early learning across Appalachia. Because of the mountainous terrain and lack of population density in much of Appalachia, the current actors in the broadband arena have not found it cost effective to provide broadband. For example, over 40% of the people in West Virginia (WV) lack access, or affordable access, to broadband. WV ranks 48th in the nation for broadband accessibility. Consequently, few WISPs exist in WV and none in southern West Virginia, few people find it advantageous to train as Certified Network Engineers (CNEs) and therefore little training exists for people who wish to work in the satellite/wireless industry. By demonstrating an effective, affordable, sustainable and environmentally friendly approach to providing broadband in 2 counties (using Concero's special pricing from Intelsat) and linking that to a free online early learning program with free Internet and a free computer, we will ensure strong demand from the start. Later, training the skilled employees needed to install, operate and maintain a satellite/wireless network will enable affordable broadband to spread rapidly across Appalachia. Ashoka and Concero's adoption approach will be key to ensuring that the technology benefits the community. We use a community-based approach to selecting and training trusted community members as adoption facilitators who help their neighbors understand and take advantage of the opportunities the Internet offers.

Who Benefits?

Through the UPSTART program, we will have immediate impact on 200 children and their families. Children will have superb readiness for kindergarten, and families access to broadband, skills and computers. Others in the demonstration areas will benefit from connectivity. Certified Network Engineers (CNEs) who are employed to provide broadband in two counties, and those who run the network operations center (approx 5) will benefit from employment. Later on we will also build demand for the CNE certification as more counties are served, and will benefit people in the region seeking new forms of employment. In addition, integrating the solar-powered broadband system into emergency management support for each county we will assure continued connectivity in natural disasters or other emergencies--a huge benefit to public authorities. Broadband will catalyze countless jobs and other opportunities (health, education) - creating hope in a region where that is often lacking.

How is your idea unique?

While many people still discuss bringing fiber to remote areas, the cost of digging to lay cable continues to be prohibitive. Furthermore, fiber laid beside streams - often the only flat area - is washed away in floods (as occurred in 2016). Satellite/Wireless Connectivity been suggested by many as an alternative to fiber in mountainous areas, but the economics in sparsely populated areas have made the current players balk at providing service. Even cell companies have only spotty service. Concero's unique agreement with Intelsat for discounted satellite service enables us to bring down the cost to something poor Appalachia families can afford (under $30 per month.) And, by offering cell companies the opportunity to tie into the infrastructure we place, they can make our Community Builder Units roaming locations for 1/10 the cost of placing a new cell tower. By linking implementation to an online early learning program we will connect with families and build demand for broadband.

Idea Proposal Stage

  • Piloting: I have started to implement my solution as a whole with a first set of real users.

Tell us more about you

ASHOKA is the largest network of social entrepreneurs worldwide, with nearly 3,500 Ashoka Fellows in 85 countries putting their system changing ideas into practice on a global scale. Founded by Bill Drayton in 1980, Ashoka has provided start-up financing, professional support services, and connections to a global network of leading social entrepreneurs. It serves as a platform for people dedicated to changing the world. Ashoka launched the field of social entrepreneurship and has activated multi-sector partners across the world who increasingly look to entrepreneurial talent and new ideas to solve social problems. Ashoka is co-designing the approach to providing connectivity and other key services in underserved areas and is activating its Ashoka Fellows and Changemakers networks in support of this effort. Adoption is key to any program’s success. CONCERO CONNECT, LC3 is a social business, based in Utah, delivering radically affordable broadband connectivity to the underprivileged and underserved. Concero creates, manages and supports new ways to overcome the barriers to providing affordable universal broadband connectivity and unleashes opportunity for benefits in education, economic development, health, etc. Concero has built the team to deliver universal, affordable broadband Internet and powerful financial inclusion, health, education and other key applications. Concero's unique contract with INTELSAT enables affordable connectivity in Appalachia. Concero Connect’s co-founder, James Mayfield, a world-renowned adoption expert, will ensure that trusted individuals are selected and well-trained and supported to accomplish the adoption process. Concero Connect also supports Concord University in providing the engineering training for the equipment installation and devices. Since its founding in 1872, CONCORD UNIVERSITY has prepared and equipped leaders who have served, and continue to serve, in a wide variety of fields and addressed social, educational and economic challenges worldwide. Today, with the shift away from coal mining employment, the rise in automation, and the dependence of our global economy on communications technology and internet-based solutions, we recognize that a new set of tools is needed to address the growing challenges in 21st-century Appalachia. Concord is committed to bringing hope and new opportunities to a generation of young people and unemployed or underemployed adults who are at risk. A full, certified network engineering program is to be established at Concord with support from Cisco Networking Academy and Mimosa networks, provider of wireless “last-mile” and customer premises equipment. Waterford Institute, a nonprofit research center creating the best personalized reading, math, and science software for early learners, was founded in 1976 by a pioneering educator who believed he could use technology to promote the academic success of every child. They are doing just that with UPSTART.

Expertise in sector

  • 7+ years

Organization Filing Status

  • Yes, we are a registered non-profit.
  • Yes, we are a registered social enterprise.
  • Yes, we are a registered company.
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Attachments (7)

Idaho Graduation Survey copy.pdf

Over 13,000 parents in Utah whose children participated in UPSTART responded to the post-graduation survey. Responses were from 97% to 99% positive. An graph of the summary results is included with this entry as an image.

Rural UPSTART Preschool Study Prelim Evaluation Report 071416-1.pdf

This report details the significant progress of 4 year olds who used the UPSTART program.

Rowan Salisbury Letter.pdf

Anne Brown of Waterford Institute and David Stephens of Concero Connect met with Lynn Moody, Superintendent of the Rowan-Salisbury, NC school system and the system's CTO. RSSS has a 63% district-wide poverty rate and many areas with no connectivity. They are excited to have a solution to help address the early learning and connectivity issues in an integrated way.

Appalachia Concero Pro Forma-2.pdf

Assumptions related to the financial pro forma that follows.

Appalachia Concero Pro Forma-1.pdf

These financial projections cover the Concero demonstration projects in two counties. These do not include the funding for the Waterford Institute support of the UPSTART program, but do include the revenue to cover free Internet services provided to 200 families. The funding of the Certified Network Engineer program at Concord would require an added $500K. As a social business, Concero Connect's profits support its mission and will help fund the spread of the service to additional areas.


This flyer was used by UPSTART in Utah. Beneficiary interviews suggested enlarging the information on the free Internet/computer offer, simplifying the layout by reducing the number of words and offering a texting option to get more information. Additional suggestions include: having the flyers (or poster versions) provided by trusted sources (e.g., teachers, fellow parents) and at gatherings of fellow parents (PTA meetings, mothers' groups, school meetings) and clarity about how to qualify.

User Experience Map.pdf

This is the result of numerous revisions after talking the process through/role playing with members of our team. It served to prepare us for beneficiary/stakeholder interviews.


Join the conversation:

Photo of Khuyen Bui Gia

Hi Anne Evans 
I love the idea, particularly linking broadband with early education to create a demand for broadband. I used to work with who is doing similar "connecting-the-connector"s work and thought you might be interested in reaching out.

Photo of Anne Evans

Thanks for the link to -- looks super helpful. Who would you advise us to reach out to there? Thanks! anne

Photo of David Stephens

Hi Khuyen,
Thanks for reminding us about People Centered Network, i reached out to Mei Lin Fung and will be speaking with her next week. We are already members of the Internet Inclusion IEEE Group. We have also worked with the ITU for over 10 years. In fact, you might want to take a look at the video produced by the Navajo Nation for the Tunis WSIS Conference in 2005.

WSIS is where then Navajo President, Joe Shirley Jr., spoke on behalf of 370 plus million Indigenous People around the world. See:

Photo of Kate Rushton

Khuyen Bui Gia - This is a gentle reminder that Anne posted a question above?

Photo of David Stephens

Hi Kate,
I know the team at PCN and have already reached out. By the way, another partner that will be included in this and other projects is Skoolbo. You should take a look at their website. Its a worldwide gamified learning program with over 1.5 billion answers from kids all over the world from pre-k to 12 years old and its FREE. See:

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