In David and Goliath world of community broadband, customer service brings down Goliath.

This is the first of a four-week series on how to make customer service your most effective community broadband marketing tool.

Communities are pursuing various strategies to get faster better broadband. Is yours one of those communities that are issuing RFPs for needs assessment studies? If so, you should devote some of this assessment to studying the secret that’s driving the success that cities such as Chattanooga, TN, Salisbury, NC and Danville, VA are having?

David-and-Goliath-the-Blaze-TVWhen you look at the dozens of success stories, particularly those such as Lafayette, LA, Reedsburg, WI and Wilson, NC that faced the gazillion-dollar marketing might of huge telcom and cable companies, you find marketing is the key to their success. But not marketing in the form of slick brochures and funny YouTube ads. Effective customer service is the marketing equalizer that’s giving the broadband David’s the upper hand over incumbent Goliaths.

Reedsburg, a town of 10,000 people, faced not one but two industry behemoths, Verizon, whose wireline assets were later bought by Frontier, and Charter Communications. Outsiders probably thought the Reedsburg Utility Commission’s (RUC) fiber network was doomed from the start, but the public utility’s former Marketing and Sales Director Catherine Rice understood early what would be the keystone to their marketing success.

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My comments to FCC supporting Chattanooga, TN & Wilson petitions to remove anti-muni net laws

It is way past time the FCC step in and put a stop to state legislative intrusion into the broadband affairs of Chattanooga and other local communities that are best able to make choices that are in their constituents’ best interests.

Over 400 public-owned networks operate in the United States, according to the Institute of Local Self-Reliance, including 89 fiber and 74 cable communitywide networks. Evaluating these networks’ impact on job creation, education and stirring innovation, as well as their financial sustainability, uncover hundreds of success stories that can be replicated once the barriers in Tennessee drop.

Some networks such as those in Cedar Falls, IA, Thomasville, GA, Santa Monica, CA and Bristol, VA have operated successfully for over 10 years. Danville, VA’s public utility’s network that launched in 2004 helped cut their unemployment in half, down from 19%, by directly enticing several large companies to the area, and driving a local technology industry that otherwise likely wouldn’t exist. Santa Monica, CA’s fiber network, launched the same year, reduced government voice and data communication by over $750,000 a year while building a $2.5 million surplus through the city’s savings plus selling fiber services to local businesses. Furthermore, community networks’ ROI often is not about revenue but benefitting the public good.

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Happy 3rd anniversary, Gigabit Nation! Check out the 10 most popular interviews

A humongous Thank you! to all of you listeners and supporters of Gigabit Nation.

Three years ago today, with a month’s worth of guests booked, one sponsor (Hiawatha Broadband Communications) and just a general idea of where this would end up, Gigabit Nation launched. The only radio talk devoted to helping organizations improve the sad state of broadband in these United States.

My first guest was Jim Ingraham, VP of Strategic Research for Chattanooga’s public utility and fiber network operator, EPB (Check out the interview). Tomorrow, I’m in Chattanooga to celebrate the show’s third anniversary in a special 90-minute live interview of some of the key leaders and stakeholders who have contributed to the success of the city’s now famous gig network.

We’ll highlight some of the major milestones the city has reached thanks to its network, as well as take a peek at Chattanooga’s gig future. I’ll also be review some of the high points in Gigabit Nation’s 3-year run.

My guests and I have created nearly 200 hours of solid advice, community success stories, broadband policy discussions and future outlooks. Monthly live and downloaded listens have gone from a couple of thousand to 15,000. When Gigabit Nation speaks, people listen: broadband project teams, elected officials, local broadband stakeholders, policymakers, vendors and service providers of all stripes.

Here in reverse order are the 10 most popular interviews since Gigabit Nation 2011 launch:

10.  16 Meg Muni WiFi Network – Chattanooga Continues to Rock!

9.  Gigabit Innovation Rises from Chattanooga’s Testbed

8.  Post-Sandy, the Future of Broadband and Smart Grid

7.  FTTH Conf, Tue: Smart Grid Economics, Kutztown Magic, UTOPIA

6.  The Big News about Google Fiber in Kansas City?

5.  Closing the Digital Divide in KC, One Neighborhood at a Time

4.  Maximize Broadband As An Economic Development Asset

3.  WISPs: Tips for Better Engaging These Broadband Stars

2.  $25 Million Broadband Success Story in Maine!

1.  Crowdfunding to Pay for Broadband Networks? Yes, Please.

I’m looking forward to another great year of awesome interviews, as well as your continued support and listenership.

Btw, you company execs who are trying to increase your presence in the community broadband market – you really should consider being a Gigabit Nation sponsor. Ping me! Let’s talk.

What This Year’s Survey Says About Broadband and Economic Development

Survey saysBroadband has consistently been described as a tool or asset to help communities improve local economic development. In the past few years, a lot of effort has gone into positioning broadband as our newest utility, vital as our mainstay electric, gas and water utilities. Every year I dig a little bit via a survey to learn how much the hype about broadband’s impact on local economies reflects the reality.

This year’s survey asks members of the International Economic Development Council (IEDC), the largest professional association of economic developers, key questions regarding broadband’s impact on local economies. These questions test some general assumptions made about outcomes that broadband produces, and also enables survey respondents to assess some of the value broadband brings to their communities.

Get the full report here. Some of this year’s findings include: Continue reading

Putting Radar O’Reilly’s Hometown on the Broadband Map, Pilot Project Starts

RadarEveryone who remembers M*A*S*H and its zany cast of characters remembers the quirky, lovable and oh so efficient Corporal “Radar” O’Reilly who hailed from Ottumwa, IA. Radar likely would be very pleased with recent developments in Ottumwa to bring highspeed broadband and higher levels of efficiency to businesses, healthcare facilities and various local institutions.

Ottumwa began its journey in 2012 toward faster, better Internet access that has been deliberate, inclusive and thorough. Initially led by the Ottumwa Economic Development Corporation, project leadership shifted this year to the Ottumwa Regional Legacy Foundation, which last month retained Pinpoint Services to begin engineering design for a pilot project.

The Ottumwa project offers valuable lessons in needs assessment, consensus building and informed decision making. I was brought in to conduct the needs assessment, lead several workshops and a couple town hall meetings, compile a technology inventory and create a roadmap forward.

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The Broadband-Driven Economy: How to Plan It, Fund It, Measure It

My annual survey of IEDC members and other economic development professionals regarding how broadband impacts local economies closes Tuesday (April 1), so get on the stick if you’re in the profession but haven’t completed the survey (click here). This year, I’ve changed up a few things to focus more on applications than technology. And as you can read below, I also received some feedback about the role of econ dev pros in maximizing broadband’s benefits.

The first section of the survey asks members to report on the current state of highspeed Internet access in their jurisdictions. The second poses questions about how respondents see broadband being used to impact business development, healthcare delivery and education.

The third section asks them to assess various options for funding broadband networks, and models for communities to own and operate the business of broadband, even if the community isn’t becoming an ISP. The fourth section addresses key broadband policy issues such as facilitating competition and providing consumer protections.

I’m presenting the survey results next week during a keynote session I’m sharing with IEDC’s Chair of the Board, Bill Sproull, at the Broadband Communities Summit in Austin, TX. In going through the surveys responses so far, I read some of the answers to the open-ended question, “What are two things economic development professionals such as yourself need to do to help the network impact specific outcomes?”

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Tennessee Legies Go Into Pro-Public Broadband Frenzy

While broadband advocates were fighting fierce battles to defeat anti-muni network bills that were eventually won in Kansas and twice in Utah, Tennessee legislators were quietly ushering through not one but FOUR bills to un-do some of the restrictions previous legies put in place several years ago.

This kind of reversal is practically unheard of in the 19 states that clamped lids on muni nets. What’s more surprising? Republicans lawmakers, typically the party that leads the charge against public-owned networks, are taking the lead on many of these bills in Tennessee!

TN legiesActually what’s happening is full bi-partisanship in dual-chamber drives. A rather impressive display, really. Each bill has a state senate and state house version, there are Republican and Democratic sponsors of the bills and most of the bills appear to have several co-sponsors from both parties. Yowsah! This is sort of like Santa Claus making a second post-Christmas delivery for community broadband advocates when you consider the muni net wins in very conservative Utah and Kansas, and now this Tennessee waltz.

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