Communities United for Broadband: Picking Up Where Google Leaves Off

Anybody here doubt for a minute that Google has lit a fire for broadband under a lot of folks? With just a handful of staffers, a Web site and probably a PR firm (all of whom, btw, deserve a 4-week all-expense-paid vacation to Cancun), they turned legions of people of all stripes and from all walks of life into rabid broadband fans.

The real question today, though, is not who might win Google fiber, but how do you harness this energy, creativity and the collective realization that “broadband really can make a difference to our community?” Over 1,100 cities responded to Google’s RFI and nearly 200,000 people nationwide submitted letters to the company. These numbers represent power, but it’s fragmented. Or rather, it was.

Last Friday, Greensboro, NC broadband advocate Jay Ovittore and I felt too much has been done for it all to end now. We believed Facebook was the key to moving people forward. Facebook pages enabled hundreds of communities to each attract thousands of supporters. Can you imagine these forces unified? Communities United for Broadband is our Facebook answer.

We’re harnessing these markets into a nationwide coordinated grassroots push to bring 1 gigabit broadband to where it’s needed. Our mission is simple: “Take the prep work done for the Google RFI and pool our respective skills, enthusiasm and newfound broadband wisdom into a force to bring better, faster broadband to our communities.”

The value for communities is this. We offer them 1) a convenient location where they receive expert advice on implementing broadband, 2) a resource for exchanging knowledge and experiences that benefit each community and 3) a vehicle for motivating constituents to action. “We are tapping into pent up market demand and showing people how to take action to get the appropriate service to meet each community’s unique needs,” states Ovittore.

Re-defining “free-market forces”

For too long, we’ve allowed the phrase “let the market decide” be used to stifle our broadband future at the hands of monopolies and duopolies that care less than a rat’s left hindquarter what’s in our communities’ best interest. But Communities United for Broadband believes in a different market dynamic. Here’s our free market strategy for getting better broadband.

  1. Realize that our community is a market.
  2. As a market, our businesses, government and individuals collectively spend significant dollars on communication services (voice, data, etc.).
  3. Despite our spending as a market, we have un-met broadband needs and unfulfilled dreams.
  4. Subsequently, we will use our purchasing power and political clout to get the broadband we need and want.
  5. Key to the success of this strategy is our ability to encourage, facilitate or create competitors in our market, which we will do.

Is this going to work? You bet it is!

In three days of pre-launch testing, the page already generate hundreds of fans, including administrators of Google fiber fan pages for Duluth, MN, Raleigh, NC, Grand Rapids, MI, Chico, CA, Topeka (a.k.a. Google), KS, Scott County, MN, Fishers, IN, Lansing, MI, Cincinnati, OH, Berkeley, CA, Asheville, NC, College Station, TX, Chapel Hill, NC, Austin, TX, Worcester, MA, Fairbanks, AK, Corpus Christi, TX, Lubbock, TX, Cookeville, TN, New Haven, CT, and Owensboro, KY. Starting Monday, an interactive mapping application provided by RidgeviewTel will track our progress.

Those wanting to participate in this effort can go to Communities United for Broadband’s Facebook page and click to join (a Web page will come later). I’m providing lessons and leading discussions based on my recent book, “Fighting the Next Good Fight: Bringing Community Broadband to Your Community,” and other research. Jay, myself and members of the group provide links to other resources, post videos and pictures and exchange information. RidgeviewTel’s dBOSS application platform enables constituents to map their geographic locations for analysis.

This group isn’t limited to those who applied for Google fiber. Everyone who applied but didn’t get funding through the broadband stimulus is also invited. As the FCC converts its national broadband plan into action steps, those answering that call are also invite to join us. You stimulus grant winners, hop aboard too. This big tent’s got plenty of room for everyone who wants and needs better broadband.

P.S. Have you had your broadband vision checked? That’s the topic for discussion on our page for the next week.

8 Responses

  1. Craig and Jay,
    Thanks for starting this. I will post a link to this blog on the Asheville NC’s Google Fiber facebook page. I will also send a note to our website guys to post a link here as well.
    Every city has worked very hard to compete for the Google FIber project. But most of us will be disappointed by that effort. But we should take heart that Google has helped light a fire that we should not let go out.
    In these times of tight economics we need to figure out ways that we, as regular people, can development alternatives to getting Fiber to The Home for all communities that want it.

  2. Bad idea. The public sector should not compete with local business. If communities do this, they will hurt themselves by destroying jobs and deterring innovation and entrepreneurship. And the “big guys” will ultimately win. See http://www.digitalsociety.org/2010/03/why-municipal-fiber-has-not-succeeded/

  3. When I consul communities, I tell them all options should be on the table. Based on their needs and available options, different communities will make different decisions. There are probably as many ways to form a public-private partnership as there are communities. If, after a community thoroughly assesses its needs and options, they determine local government or public utility ownership of the network is what best meets their needs, they should have the right to make and live with that decision.

    Often communities have no viable local option and the only private sector option is one of the big incumbents. These are NOT local companies, and they do not have the interests of locals as a priority.

    As to the article you point to, I encourage people to read the article, then read the comments. There is plenty in the Comments section to support the need for muni networks AND disprove the assumption that muni networks have failed. There are close to 60 successful muni fiber networks running in the U.S., and these prove that muni networks are viable options. They’re not right for every community, but they deserve to be given full consideration in the needs assessment process.

  4. Dear Craig,

    Your book is an absolute necessity for anyone in municipal wireless.

    Fortunately for us all, there are more and more all the time.

    As the internet goes wireless, pervasive, and device-driven, it will also become highly localized.

    That will give the local a tremendous advantage. When we can deliver educational, medical, and community information to devices like, say, the iPad, the platform may well pay for itself.

    Why wait until a telecom can deliver 100 Mbps to the home

  5. I agree that it’s obvious communties have shown they want options. I’m writing a series of articles on http://www.muniwireless.com to show how the communities that need bandwidth can afford to put this type of system in. It could go in as a public/private option but my goal is to show affordability with bandwdith options up to 100Mbps to a home.

  6. Nice idea to join us all together. Power to the people.

    But please remember, some towns, some cities, some regional groups and at least one entire state…Vermont invited Google to build in their area. Please keep discussions and forms applicable to us all.

    • I’m very much an advocate of providing communities with information and a way of thinking about things so they can use this advice to create their own best solutions to broadband issues. There’s too much diversity between communities for a one-size-fits-all approach. I hope you find our Facebook page valuable.

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