Going for Google Broadband Gold (one NC community’s approach)

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Google recently turned the broadband world on its ear by announcing it’s going to set up fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) networks for a handful of lucky communities that will deliver 1 gigabit per second speeds. Dozens of cities large and small are lining up to apply.

I wanted to get a perspective on what’s motivating communities that survived NOFA 1 to endure a different frenzied race for broadband gold. Hunter Goosmann, General Manager of ERC Broadband in Western North Carolina, recently received their Opportunity to Re-Apply letter from NTIA and RUS. ERC’s not only going for Google gold, but also a chance at Round 2 funding (sleep must not be a valued commodity in that part of the world).

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Will NOFA Round 1 Ever End? Maybe Not

The level of frustration with NTIA/RUS’ refusal to extend the NOFA 2 application deadline has become severe. This is probably going to send some over the edge and away from the stimulus program. The result: the American taxpayer loses. If ever there was a right time for Congress to intervene, now is that time.

In the press release this week from RUS announcing their grant winners of the week, most of us (myself included) missed this item:

USDA is continuing to review broadband applications currently on file and expects to make additional announcements concerning awards throughout the current fiscal year. 

One of my contacts e-mailed to ask if this means we won’t know who all the winners are on Feb 28. NOFA 2 rules say your grant app will be disqualified if your proposed coverage area includes areas covered by  Round 1 winners. Which means you have two weeks to either scramble to adjust your application if there turns out to be duplications, or you face two weeks of sheer hell because you waited around for the Feb 28 finale.

However, what the RUS press release implies is that, like the movie Ground Hog Day, every day we wake up we’ll still be in Round 1. I sent the following message to someone I know at RUS:

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NOFA 2 Lessons from a Round 1 Winner

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As everyone scrambles to make one last charge into broadband stimulus history – for better or worse – here’s a hopefully helpful post to give you at least a tiny edge in your pursuit of the gold.

I decided to profile stimulus grant winner Tad Deriso, President & CEO of the Mid-Atlantic Broadband Cooperative in Virginia, in part, because his group is the self-proclaimed “square peg in a round hole.” MBC is a co-op of private-sector-only companies, they didn’t form a public-private partnership, they’re a middle mile project not targeted to all the usual suspects and they challenged NTIA/RUS’ definition of underserved. Yet they still come out ahead.

Let’s see what we can learn from this slightly odd duck in the winner’s circle. Many of Tad’s comments pertain to the due diligence process, but understanding how they navigated this process offers some insights on where to tighten up your proposal.

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Google’s Gonna Do what!?

Yesterday morning I was going to write about my new book I released, Fighting the Next Good Fight: Bringing true broadband to your community. Then the Google news about them jumping into the fiber-to-the-home business hit early on, and the rest of the day was spent talking to people wanting to know what it all meant. More to write about.

As the night eases into the a.m. hours, I figure I’ll cover both in one post. My book methodically lays out steps you should follow to effectively plan for a financially sustainable broadband network (see Table of Contents). And here comes Google with a bold proclamation to take action that happens to reflect many of the lessons presented in the book. Serendipity is a beautiful thing.

Is seeing believable?

The most common question I heard was, is this a real move by Google to become a broadband player, or just a feint, a jab-and-move kind of deal similar to Google’s efforts in muni wireless in 2006, or their play for spectrum soon after this. Because Google’s long-term fortunes are buoyed by there being blazing fast broadband everywhere possible, I don’t count out its extended involvement in these projects.

First, Google has the market clout and bankroll to be taken seriously, and so there will be a spotlight on Google’s broadband actions as long as they pursue them, subsequently giving the company the mantle of a leader in the space. It could become a long lasting distinction if, as one of their product managers expressed in a GigaOm interview, the company takes the learning from this test bed to the world. I have to believe this is good for some of Google’s other businesses. It’s a great deal, with a caveat or two, for the rest of us.

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