Based on four illustrative case studies from the Netherlands, this article discusses learning experiences gained from rural broadband initiatives. As an example of ‘the big society’ (or ‘participatiesamenleving’ in Dutch), initiatives try to step in where the market and the government fail. The main struggle seems to be negotiating between market and government interests, while simultaneously safeguarding local interests. Many challenges and frustrations arise from counter-tactics on the part of national market players, and governmentality-inspired actions of regional and local authorities. Local capacity – such as social, intellectual, and financial capital – proves to be crucial in negotiating external influences, but it is easily overburdened. Case studies show that volunteer burnout is a risk that potentially has a high impact. Despite neoliberal agendas and community-led development schemes that promote citizen initiatives, it remains challenging for communities to reclaim control over their digital futures. Members of the initiatives have to learn and professionalise in order to stand their ground in a competitive and complex broadband market, but this learning element seems to be only a by-product of the process towards achieving the tangible result for rural development, that is, high-speed broadband access.