And the Pubic Comment Beat Goes On

Last week was a fun time in D.C. The content of the meeting didn’t break much new ground, but it did reinforce the faith of some that communities and smaller service providers may hold a strong hand in determining where broadband stimulus money goes.

Looking over the people in the auditorium, the general takeaway for me was, here’s a process inherently stacked against the little guy and gal. Special interests reps drop in by the battalion while the cadres representing the rest of us are more likely coming in at platoon strength. But luckily there’s the Internet, the great equalizer.

As I mentioned in a previous post, the public comment period is key. NTIA’s Web site is where you can find out the agendas for the public meetings happening over the next couple of weeks to sort out the rules for disbursing the broadband stimulus money. And this handy tool is how you get your two cents in the mix: the NTIA comment form 

What to comment about?

One Tuesday and Wednesday the two (and only) meetings in the western U.S. deal with defining broadband, un-served and underserved areas. This is huge since what we’re really talking about is, 1) how fast is fast enough, and 2) which segments of the population get a service they’re not sufficiently getting now.

These meetings also tackle the equally important issue of demand generation. I still don’t think some people realize the importance of having or creating a demand for the network. Once you build the network, who or what is going to generate revenue to keep the thing running. You could be looking at 10% – 20% of the buildout cost EVERY YEAR for operations.

Here’s a thought.

Let the various communities and those coming in with public/private partnerships define their needs, and in defining those needs, fortify their argument for how fast their broadband needs to be and whether they are served or not. The issues of speed and sufficient service are directly related to need, and level of need determines if you’ll have enough paying subscribers to sustain the network. Organizations such as hospitals, larger businesses and schools are my revenue generators of choice.

Many – but not every – communities need a gezillion bits per second of speed. Some communities don’t have enough people who need a gezillion bits of speed and also can afford to sustain a fiber network. But maybe a point to multi-point or WiMAX network can provide enough speed until there are enough people or businesses or other entities to justify supplementing the wireless with fiber or satellite.

Then there’s the un-served/underserved dilemma. Yeah, a community might have a cable and a telecom company that provide service. But they could be a community that wants/needs to win $100 million, data-intensive research grant projects or generate an industry of information-centric businesses to replace lost industries. They need speed far above what the incumbents are technologically capable of delivering. Or maybe the community wants to build wireless and/or fiber infrastructure so they can better recover from natural disasters such as hurricanes and earthquakes. Relative to their needs, these are underserved communities.

Too many people who talk about defining what is broadband and what constitutes un-served or underserved communities want to define national standards for these and have needs conform to them. Sorry, but that’s ass-backwards. Need drives technology choices, not the reverse. Unless you want to waste $7.2 billion. And for better or worse, many communities have widely divergent needs.

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