I Get Muni Broadband with a Little Help from My Friends

Particularly if you are in one of those States with restrictions on muni networks, communities could use some help with these friends: electric and other co-ops, and nonprofit organizations. Co-ops are starting to take note and commit to forming plans to develop community-focused (i.e. cheaper, faster, customer-serving) broadband infrastructure. Nonprofits as potential builders, owners and partners with communities aren’t talked about a lot in the media. However they should be.

Here are some thoughts to wet your whistle. These friends are valuable even if your state doesn’t have any prohibitions on community broadband.

i-get-by-with-a-little-help-from-my-friends-13Co-ops are your friends

Not only are co-ops good for teaching how to form effective legislative partnerships, they can be great allies on broadband projects. “The City of Montrose is also working on a community anchor institution network project along with others,” says Virgil Turner. “The Delta-Montrose Electric Association (co-op) partnered with our regional council of governments by providing dark fiber to substations near each of the region’s small towns. From the substations, the region is building into carrier neutral location within each town and then on to the anchor institutions.”

There are dozens of co-ops in every heavily rural state, but only a few that are building networks. Observers who follow this industry believe there will be a rapid acceleration as co-ops see the results of successful co-op pilot projects. Co-ops can potentially form partnerships with municipalities and public utilities.

Nonprofits also are your friends

Check your state laws regarding broadband and telecommunications, but I believe there are few, if any, laws that specifically forbid nonprofit organizations from providing broadband services. It may take a year to complete all the paperwork and procedures to create a nonprofit. But a nonprofit that has an economic development mission can raise money that it doesn’t have to re-pay.

The Steuben County Foundation, a nonprofit organization, created a supporting organization called iMAN to build a dark fiber network. iMAN, also a nonprofit, sells access to businesses that contract with ISPs to light the fiber and buy Internet services. 65% of the monthly $225 dark fiber fees go to the Foundation whose Board of Directors selects economic development projects to fund.

iMAN’s network covers 75 miles and generates $80,000/year. Dark fiber rates subsequently are kept affordable, which encourages institutional and business subscribers. Donations and subscription fees continually drive network expansion. ISPs carry the costs – and reap the profits – from selling end-user services, also at affordable rates.

Do your homework! Understand the laws governing nonprofits. Also study networks that where built by organizations such as Steuben County Foundation, the City of Santa Monica IT Department and the City of Wilson, NC IT Department. They only needed a few staff and a consulting firm to get their networks up and running until they were able to recruit ISPs to handle subscribers.


This Election, Take Muni Broadband Fight to Statehouses

In the land that gave the world the Internet, it’s amazing that so many other countries in the world have better, faster broadband. Yet we’ve legislated public Internet networks out the picture in some states. A handful of people hinder millions from the potential benefits of muni broadband.

Stop! Enough already! The FCC tried to beat the states in the courts, but that didn’t work. It’s time this election cycle to take the hardball politics to the state legislative arena where the source of the problem originated.

Communities – support your allies, convert opponents to allies, support your opponents’ opponent. And this doesn’t end in November. Cities need to develop strategies and tactics to establish legislative policies and support even in states that have no restrictions on muni broadband.

Battle flag

My update to “How to Navigate, Mitigate or Eliminate the Impacts of State Restrictions on Public Broadband” offers recommendations you should read. Legislators such as Tennessee’s Janice Bowling and Kevin Brooks, Alabama’s Tom Whatley and others from both sides of the aisle need your help. The incumbents, the true source of these anti-muni network laws, are powerful. But the battles to important give up.

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Stand with Tennessee, Tell AT&T To Back Down!

Year ago I was sidelined with a stroke and my blog went on hiatus. But it’s back and issuing a rallying call as Tennessee legislators try to remove that state’s restriction on public- and co-op-run broadband.

Battle flagBroadband community, make your voices heard, make a difference in Tennessee! This law has got to go. Write the Governor of Tennessee. Better yet, call him – 615) 741-2001. Demand these legislators to stand up for their constituents’ right to get the best possible broadband they can, and tell AT&T to get the hell out of away! Call ’em, e-mail ’em, then ask your neighbors to do the same.

Let’s be clear here. Muni broadband is not “unfair competition” by local government. When Wilson’s 12-person IT department several years ago planned, built and managed a network that delivered speeds 20 times faster than the best Time Warner Cable offered, that’s competing with superior technology. When Comcast customers switch to Chattanooga’s 10-gig network because EPB offers far better customer service, that’s competent competition. When tiny Reedsburg, Wis. refuses to compete against the large cable company on price, but beats competitors by offering greater value provided by local management, they compete based on local credibility. Continue reading

Top 10 Gigabit Nation Interviews for 2014

Chattanooga 2When Gigabit Nation speaks…the show racks up over 100,000 listens in 2015 for its live and archived shows. Here are the Top 10 Interviews for 2014 that helped the show pass this pretty amazing threshold. Thank you to all the fans and supporters who continue to make the show a big success.

There are currently over 200 hours of interviews covering many aspects of broadband, making this the most extensive audio resource for community broadband. Gigabit Nation should be bookmarked for every broadband project team and community stakeholder who want faster, better broadband for their constituents.

Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke

Interview with Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke for Gigabit Nation 3rd. Anniversary show.

As we get into full swing in 2015, expect plenty more good interviews, especially with the White House and Senate pushing aggressively to end states’ anti-public network laws. In addition, it seems every week there’s a new public network being planned or launched, and an increasing number of success stories. Also expect highspeed and data-heavy applications to become a bigger part of our news-you-can-use landscape. Gigabit Nation will continue to bring you the folks who are getting broadband done.

And just in case you missed it, Jan 23rd was the re-scheduled interview with Cedar Falls, IA to discuss President Obama’s visit to celebrate their utility’s 20-year broadband success story and rev up support for public-owned networks. We also noted how Iowa’s 28 public utility-owned broadband networks are profiles in success that other U.S. communities can emulate.

Top 10 Interviews (beginning with the most popular) 

Many thanks to sponsors Calix and Hiawatha Broadband Communications. Your partnership keeps this project going strong, each year better than the one that went before. We’re adding new sponsors shortly.













POTUS Rocks the Broadband World!!

A small army of community broadband activists, advocates, experts and coalitions have waged ceaseless war on behalf of communities’ right to make their own choices for bringing faster, better broadband to their constituents. Today, our band of stouthearted souls is reinforced by the ultimate big gun in this good fight.

obama badassThe President of these United States is speaking out in full force about the value and virtues of community-owned broadband network, and denouncing the laws restricting public networks in 21 states. Last week I predicted there would be a surge in efforts to challenge these laws, and this pretty much guarantees it to be so.

In today’s remarks by the President from Cedar Falls, Iowa, (read how they became a gigabit city), he acknowledges the efforts of the 50 cities in the Next Century Cities coalition (recently interviewed on Gigabit Nation) and 37 research universities of Gig.U. President Obama also announces several initiatives by his administration to advance broadband deployments in the U.S., including the Dept. of Commerce’s BroadbandUSA program and the Dept. of Agriculture’s revamped broadband loan program.

What undoubtedly will capture the lion’s share of media attention is the President’s focus on the barriers to public broadband in 21 states. My report I released last week, How to Navigate, Mitigate or Eliminate the Impacts of State Restrictions on Public Broadband, details these laws and offers recommendations on how communities can work with or work around them.

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Tearing down anti-muni broadband barriers in 2015?

hole in wallI’m going to go out on a limb and make a couple of New Year’s predictions, a practice I’ve always avoided like the plague. But after my research for my latest Community Broadband Snapshot Report that addresses state legislative barriers to public-owned broadband, I feel pretty confident about this.

First, I predict there will be a surge of effort to counter the impact of current state laws that prevent municipalities and public utilities from building or expanding their broadband networks. Second, there will be a number of legislative bodies that, at the behest of giant telco and cable company lobbyists, will try to add new restrictive laws to the books, which I expect will be met with fierce opposition.

If-Then Laws Minefield Laws Total Bans
Alabama Florida Arkansas
California Louisiana Missouri
Colorado N. Carolina Montana
Iowa S. Carolina Nebraska
Michigan Utah Tennessee
Minnesota Virginia

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Customer service tactics to boost broadband marketing

This is the last of a four-part series on using customer service as an effective community broadband marketing tool.

The past few weeks have been fun engaging in a conversation about preparing to create a level of customer service that translates into strong marketing that helps you withstand incumbents’ marketing onslaught as well as increase revenue. This week I want to wrap up by giving you some recommendations for customer service activities after you launch.

Manage expectation of services

You can’t build it all, all at once. Once you announce the network, quite a few people all over town will want service available as soon as the network goes live. However, as one project manager stated, “Somebody has to be last.” How well you convey that message and how equitable constituents perceive the roll out establishes a subliminal positive or negative image for the customer service. You can’t market “Customer Service is Job 1” and have credibility unless your business actions from the start reflect that message. Google in Kansas City is fighting a negative “service” image in low-income areas because of the company’s focus on building to areas that have money and the perception it doesn’t care about poor neighborhoods.

Want happy customers? Deliver good customer service.

Want happy customers? Deliver good customer service.

There’s another element of managing expectations effectively. Once the network starts to roll into the various neighborhoods, there is going to be a seriously pent-up demand for broadband, which is kind of a good news/bad news situation. The good news is that you’ll sign up a lot of subscribers right out of the gate. The bad news is that if you haven’t prepared enough of the right resources (installers, help desk staff, tech service people, etc.), you won’t be able to meet this demand. This too can put a cloud over your customer service team, and you’ll have to fight an uphill battle to establish an image of being a customer service-driven.

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Creation orientation intensifies impact of customer service

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

Last week I talked about the tech prep needed to get your customer service house in order and increase your odds for community broadband success. This week we should talk about the business communications prep that’s also needed. And as I’ve said repeatedly, this work starts long before the network launches.

To turn customer service into a righteously awesome marketing tool, you need a creation orientation rather than a problem-solving orientation. Much of broadband is driven by the latter. “We have a problem – broadband sucks. We don’t have enough money. The cable guy is always late. Subscribers are on hold for an eternity. Customer service becomes endless exercises in conflict resolution. It’s difficult to be proactive in this type of environment plus you miss many of the marketing benefits customer service could produce.

Conversely, using a creation orientation enables you to make something that bigger, better, more awesome than what has gone before. Applied to customer service, rather than focus on building a faster “problem-solving” operations, how about creating an organization-wide culture of service that’s frequently ahead of customers’ wants and needs. Subscribers look forward to working with you rather than dreading the call.

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Customer service technology gives community broadband marketing edge

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

Last week, I explained why customer service is the keystone of community broadband marketing success. Large incumbents throw millions at trying to destroy even small towns’ network business, yet these public entities survive and thrive because great customer service creates insanely strong customer loyalty.

Building market strength through efficient, speedy, reliable service depends heavily on technology. The tech that goes into broadband infrastructure plays a huge role in the quality of your customer service, as does the tech you use to execute and manage customer service tasks. Non-techies as well as tech staff need to understand this 30,000-foot view on the subject.  customer-service

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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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