Anti-community Broadband Bill Moving Again in North Carolina!

There are times when you have to give the Devil his due. Take Time Warner, for instance (please).

A couple of weeks ago, the good folks and local governments of N. Carolina waged digital and traditional political war against ole TW in the name of community broadband and won!   In both the state Senate and the House, bills that would have crippled community broadband were sent to committee. 

But the irrepressible Time Warner is back again with a new line of attack trying to kill community broadband in NC again. Tomorrow (Wed, 5/27) they’re going to try to divert the bill that was voted to be studied by the legislator’s Broadband Committee to an incumbent-friendly committee instead – unchanged. They figure to get their friends to hand them victory after losing the due-process portion of this legislative exercise.

Read the post. Then take action!! E-mail the state senators listed in this blog post and tell them to send the bill to the committee that actually knows what broadband is all about. 

Update – May 28

Score another win for the forces of community broadband. Yesterday the NC legislators who were planning to try to re-direct the anti-community network bill to an incumbent-friendly commitment canceled their meeting on the issue. Community activism and social networking save the day!

Thank you to everyone who helped out.

NTIA Grant Schedule: The Crapshoot and the Catch–22

Last week the Dept. of Commerce’s NTIA came out with a schedule that was a little off in the date when grants will be awarded, and their oft-quoted March 10 commitment to start handing out the big bucks in June. Though NTIA told inquiring reporters that they weren’t late (a mere technical quibble), the reality is the first grant checks aren’t coming out until December.

Though this means money starts to flow just in time for the holidays, the practical realities of this are a little challenging. And before going on, let me say that NTIA is to be lauded for giving themselves more room to work with since this whole stimulus timeline they’ve inherited is pretty insane, and the weight of conflicting expectations threatens to drag their boat down.

First, December paydays means April/May 2010 project launch dates. For communities in the northeast and midwest, groundbreaking on networks isn’t going to happen until said ground thaws. What about all those towns, cities and counties that have completed needs assessments, planning, partner development and everything else but writing the applications?

They folks are ready to roll and have economic impacts they could be seeing by next April rather than just getting started. Do they wait? Let’s face it, this grant process is a crapshoot for almost everyone involved. There’ll be more people asking for money than will come away with the brass rings. Do you delay the broadband benefits for nearly a year, and if you don’t get the money, start casting about anew in January for money? Or do you lift anchor on your project now?

Then there’s the catch-22. You can’t get grant money unless you prove there’s no other way you can afford to move your network forward. So you obviously can’t have a 2010 municipal budget item for the 80% CapEx you want from Uncle Sam. But when your fiscal year ends and the new budget kicks in without this line item and if you discover shortly after that you’re not a lucky winner, you’re pretty much up that smelly creek without a paddle.

I’ve been telling people for a few months that the best approach is to research and identify key stakeholder organizations and constituents with the needs and the budgets to buy enough services to underwrite network costs, then scope out an appropriate broadband plan. Work from the stance that stimulus money is only one option of many, not the one and only option for a successful project. From this position of strength, you better resolve with the catch-22.

One of what should be several options is to move things forward now, even if it means scaling back the scope of your project. It’s probably better to take the plans you have now, figure out some alternative funding sources and look to grant money as a way to expand whatever you start. If you win a grant, bump the project into overdrive. If you don’t, you already have plan B.

There are other options and strategies to attack this issue. What are some of your thoughts? (Check out the NTIA schedule)

Broadband Financing, Financial Services for My Blog Readers

The one thing everyone with broadband dreams is looking for today is money, so here you go.

Four elements are key to successfully pursuing broadband stimulus grant money: a solid business case, financing for the network buildout, financial network operations and a credible financial modeling. Our Broadband Success Partnership provides all four.

You can get all the details now on my Web site –  www.successful.com/services/stimulus.html. Or e-mail me – craig@successful.com.


Tips for the Broadband Dash for Dollars

It’s been a pretty busy week, and a lot of my writing has been directed to other blogs instead of mine. Here’s a roundup of excerpts and links to a few to help your broadband stimulus grant prep work. 

Double victory in N. Carolina (implications for broadband stimulus)

 Within a 24-hour period last week, the Senate and House sent both bills to committees for study, effectively killing that line of attack for a year.

Instead of spending all that money on lobbyists and public campaigns to stifle community efforts, Time Warner, et. al., should be flying their designers into these rural areas to find out how they’re pulling this off. The argument that you need to legislate a level playing field is ridiculous. You don’t have a 100 Mbps product to compete with and it’s not clear when you will. These towns with far fewer resources than private sector companies are delivering the service with satisfied customers now. Don’t kill these projects, figure out how to clone them! Or partner with them.

 Who’s your partner in the stimulus dash for dollars

 After sitting through and reading about the numerous public comment meetings on the broadband stimulus bill, it’s clear to me that partnerships are all the rage right now. Rugged individualism is not a winning trait at the moment. Even if yours is the poster child for unserved communities, there’s too little money and too few federal agency staff facing too many entities wanting and needing a piece of the stimulus pie to realistically deal with oodles of small applications.

How are you going to sustain your network once it’s built?

If the heart of your broadband network’s sustainability plan is selling subscriptions to individual residents, you should re-think your plan. Were the network a house, this is similar to fixating on making a classy roof while ignoring the strength of your foundation. 

Smart cities go after financially superior alternatives. Towns such as Fredericton, New Brunswick in Canada bring the largest local businesses into a room and have everyone chip in to underwrite the network operating costs. Each business gets broadband superior service for a cheaper price. Or like Santa Monica, CA, you focus on selling fiber services to local businesses. This helped generate ver $2 million in operating capital for their network.

WiMAX or WiFi? A familiar question 

Not a post, but a recent article on the question in Christian Science Monitor

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