Even Broadband Can Use a 12-Step Program

Last week I announced Communities United for Broadband, a group dedicated to harnessing the enthusiasm for gigabit broadband Google stirred up into a national campaign for community broadband. We believe communities working together can produce higher levels of success for each community.

We’re giving people information they can put into action, links to knowledge resources, discussion tools for collaboration and to help communities move forward. We welcome those who applied for Google fiber, did the broadband stimulus dance – or not – and anyone else who wants practical steps for getting broadband into their communities.

In the past two weeks, together with my co-collaborator Jay Ovittore we focused on cheerleading to get the word out and recruit people ready to make things happen. We’re quickly closing in on 800 members. Here in week three, it’s time to transition to Instruction mode.

I developed 12 main tasks I consider integral to any successful network project, which I detail in my book, Fighting the Next Good Fight. Every week or two, Communities United for Broadband will offer instruction, columns, links and discussions, all of which communities can access, adapt and use to support their respective broadband efforts.

12-point framework for your local broadband plan

1. Develop the vision

There can be no success without first having a vision around which you rally support, write effective plans and create benchmarks to measure your success. The vision has to be practical so it’s easily understood, but it must be bold. Google’s 1 gigabit worldview – helped people envision the moon, the stars, the universe. We’re picking up from there.

2. Be clear on the goals

Equally as important as the vision are the goals you set. Without a clear view of how to get from here to there, your work will be an exercise in futility. Goal setting is the process that unites your local forces and resources, while the goals themselves are what let people know where “there” is so they plan better how to get effective broadband.

3. Identify the stakeholders

There are as many ways to form effective partnerships between constituencies, governments, businesses and nonprofits as there are communities. This step is vital because with a lot of creative, focused thinking that comes with having the right stakeholders at the table, there are various paths to achieve the broadband you want.

4. Create an effective project team

This is part art, part science and another critical step once you decide to pull the trigger and move forward to develop and implement a broadband plan. With the right people in place on the team, you can perform minor (and occasionally major) miracles.

5. Build consensus early, often and always

It’s easy to say building consensus is important in broadband planning. But it can be an incredibly trying experience in practice. Then, if you start talking about more than one city or town working together, time to hire former Middle East peace negotiators to help. You want to give this task a lot of attention.

6. Plan for the politics

As long as there are lobbyists and there is money (but I repeat myself), many community networks are going to face some sort of fight. And if that’s not enough, there’s often a slew of local ordinances (e.g. right of way rules) waiting to trip people up. You have to be ready. This is a special kind of consensus building.

7. Conduct an effective needs assessment

For years, I have emphasized the need to get this right. This process could almost be a book in it’s own right. Pay attention when we get to this part of the show.

8. Align technology with the needs of your constituents

Deciding which technologies to use can easily take on the intensity of a religious debate. Some live and die by wireless, others believe they should live fiber or die. If you want to do broadband right, step back and conduct a really thorough analysis of your options. Even if you’re not a geek, you have to engage in this task.

9. Test the water before you jump in

I hope every stimulus grant winner set aside budget for testing technology and testing business models. Otherwise there could be hell to pay. You want to minimize post-deployment surprises with a lot of pre-deployment efforts to test your assumptions and vendors’ product claims as well as engineering teams’ design work.

10. Be prepared to move to full deployment

Not only do the people physically building the network have to be ready for the transition from planning and pilot projects to full deployment, but the community does as well. There are going to be hiccoughs, delays, aggravations and even the danger of too much success once you start building and turning service on for people. The best laid plans of mice et al can go out the window if you haven’t prepped your community well.

11. Effectively manage the implementation

This is an obvious task requiring a lot of focus. There are many moving parts involved once the buildout starts, combined with much unforeseen craziness (both good and bad). Time is often not your friend, particularly in places with all four seasons. Here is where collaboration is key since there are few community broadband best practices.

12. Measure ROI on all levels

This doesn’t require an accounting class, though having one or two accounting minds on the project team helps. Not all ROI is monetary, but as much as possible, you need to have means in place to measure your success.

There you have it. The basic outline of effective broadband planning and implementation. Get ready to bring the vision of gigabit broadband closer to reality.

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