Top 10 Prescriptions for Getting Broadband Done

Every January, analysts, bloggers and other random industry luminaries write a list of predictions for the new year. Good way to get a little visibility. If you write really well, you could sound like the original Oracle of Delphi (or Oracle of Delphia if you come from Philly).

I decided, heck with that game. I’m going to draw from observations over the past year and give you in the broadband trenches the Top 10 (IMHO) prescriptions for getting stuff done in 2010. Wanna prediction of the future? Then go make the future happen. 

1. Live in a parallel universe.

All you folks with stimulus proposals in the D.C. hopper, those waiting for Round 2, develop (and act on) the best plan you can write for getting broadband without one dollar of stimulus. I told you in March, all of you aren’t winning the brass ring! 

An applicant just e-mailed me that they think they’re close to stimulus payday. They had a serious plan for broadband a year before they had a plan for stimulus. Planning well for the former is why the team may win the latter. Of course, with the current rate of grant traffic, your parallel plan probably will pay off sooner. I’m just saying. 

2. Fill your dance card early, lift your spirits.

I said from the get-go, partner with other communities for this dance. Look at the first batch of stimulus awards. Who are the big winners? Even if you aren’t pursuing stimulus money, there’s financial safety – and success – in numbers. UPDATE! And now, NTIA/RUS has an app for that

3. Institutionalize yourself before it’s too late.

Another frequent theme of mine last year was bring medical facilities, schools, colleges and other institutions onto your team of stakeholders. Again, look at the early winners. Many propose to wire hundreds of institutions as part of regional networks. Institutions are key to financial sustainability and broadband adoption.

4. Inoculate against incumbents behaving badly.

Expect the bigger incumbents to continue aggressively striving for Prick of the Year! award, like here in Maine. These types of incumbents can’t lead, don’t follow and won’t get out of the way. Unless you can work with the regional incumbent, such as these folks in NY who understand public-private isn’t a dirty word, every broadband plan needs a section “Beating the Incumbent Backlash.” Vigilance is everything, readiness is all. 

5. Frequently have state legislators’ ears and eyes checked 

Consider state legislators “enabler technology” with a pulse. Incumbents are going to increase the use of local legislators to enable their attacks on community broadband. Therefore, actively cultivate your own legislative support to enable you to deflect these attacks. Keep a 2 x 4 (metaphorically speaking) handy to make sure the stubborn ones hear what you say and see what you mean.

6. Lance the boil where needed.

I often feel Connected Nation is a cross on the back of American broadband, and I feel really bad for the 15 or so states that are saddled with them to create statewide broadband maps. Here’s the deal. Your ability to receive resources (i.e. new money) for broadband depends heavily on those maps. Put the heat on the state agency responsible for the project to include 2nd– and 3rd-sourced, independently validated broadband usage data. Also, their mapping software needs to be accurate and display new data almost immediately as it comes in.

7. Sharing does more than make you feel good.

The stimulus program has proved one thing. You can have open access rules and lots of entities will step into the breach to deliver broadband. If you want broadband available and affordable to all, competition is how you get it, and open access is a linchpin to increased competition. Make your case to the FCC or 2011 will not be better than 2009. While you’re at it, throw in a heavy dose of net neutrality support.

8. Let’s not get Alzheimer’s regarding the urban underserved.

Early on, it seemed that low-income folks in the big city would be pretty much abandoned by the stimulus program. Other than some small (relative to $7 billion) allocations for computer centers and broadband adoption, the national discussion was all about rural.

Broadband is not an either-or, zero-sum game. A citizen left out because there are no resources, and one left out because they can’t afford resources that are available both lose. Everyone needs to push for the next wave of funding to be more equitable than the last.  

9. Find new ways to pay your bill.

Last year I commented that everyone including communities and public-private partnerships need to seek out traditional investors. Lookit, a broadband network is a business venture that also strives to serve the public good. Put on a business thinking cap, step outside the box and figure out how to make VCs, angel investors, financial institutions want to buy into the action you’re selling. Some equity investors are scouting grant applicants, exploring possibilities. Get out there and meet ‘em.

10. Fortify your ability to walk alone.

Yes, there’s safety and opportunity in numbers. But some small towns and counties may have to suck it up and secure a broadband future on their own. If you want it now, go get it now. Plenty of communities have found success working alone by relying on resources and partners from within to get it done. Ultimately, you have to make that same commitment if you hope to start moving toward true broadband.

Bonus prescription: Take two aspirin, check out my new blog and call me in the morning.

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