Fellows share vision for rural broadband access, affordability

AUBURN – The Rural Impact Hub hosted an event Thursday to help launch four Lead for Nebraska fellows into their new hometowns as agents of economic development and champions of broadband access.

Kenny Edwards, Table Rock

Rural Impact Hub founder Brent Comstock said the Lead for Nebraska program is headquartered in Auburn, but will have fellows across the state doing good in their hometowns or new towns that will become hometowns.

Comstock: “The Lead for Nebraska program is designed to help combat that brain drain, invite young people to have key roles in rural communities across the state and across the country.”


Photo courtesy Rural Impact Hub

Leslie Clark of the Auburn Development Council said the pandemic highlighted the need for rural broadband and said it’s significant to have young people who understand they can make a difference.

Among them is Oliver Borchers-Williams, a 2018 state speech champion from Nebraska City, who is an American Connection Corp fellow with Southeast Nebraska Development District.


 Breanna Wirth, Valentine

He will be working over the next two years to improve broadband access and affordability, as well as digital inclusion.

Williams: “It’s really a unique opportunity at this point in time. There’s a whole lot of money floating around for broadband access, not only in the aftermath of COVID, but with the possible new infrastructure bill, so we see some definite movement at the federal and at the state level toward greater broadband equity and inclusion.”

Kenny Edwards, who returned to Table Rock, worked last year through the Rural Futures Institute. His current assignment is with the Auburn Development Council to get fiber optics to every home and every business in the city.

Edwards: “I think there’s going to be a lot of questions because a lot of people think they have good Internet now, but speeds could be so much faster and they should be faster because we need this capability in small towns, rural areas, so we can took full advantage of fiber Internet.”

Edwards is passionate about helping rural Nebraska navigate it technological future.

Edwards: “Development doesn’t just happen. It’s take a people being here, doing the work and trying to be forward thinking so we can make our rural communities last well into the future.”

Michael Dwiggins of Lincoln said he will bring trend analysis and a planning mindset to his work with Southeast Nebraska Development District.

Dwiggins: “Definitely with rural Nebraska, there is a lot of room to help a lot of people. I’m interested in improving people’s lives the best I can.”

Dwiggins: “The broadband is a good vehicle for the expansion of infrastructure, so being able to expand the infrastructure, expanding the base from which everything grows upon, is really essential.”

Breanna Wirth of Mead will be serving with the economic development board in Valentine.

 Wirth: “I’m loving it. I’m loving everything that they are sharing with us in how to be successful in our new hometowns. I’ve learned a lot about what I’m representing here and ultimately it’s all about my rural community and uplifting them to reach their goals.”

The fellows followed up on national training last week with meeting local and state officials in Nebraska.

Williams: “It’s been a lot of information and it’s good to see the community is excited for the work that we are going to be doing.”

Comstock said Lead for Nebraska continues to recruit fellows.