Top 10 List for Effective Public Private Partnerships

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Today we had Gary Evans, President and CEO of Hiawatha Broadband Communications, as our guest on my Net radio talk show, Gigabit Nation. He gave the audience a great set of top 10 tips and recommendations for maximizing broadband public private partnerships.

Check out the Gigabit Nation archives to listen to the show (click audio player above). Gary also talked about his Q & A with President Obama yesterday on broadband and the economy. Gary was pleased with what he feels is the Administration’s strong commitment to getting broadband into all parts of rural and urban American.

Here is Gary’s Top 10, first from the public sector perspective, and then the private sector’s.

From the public partner perspective:

10. There is no substitute for vision: knowing why you are doing a project, what you hope to accomplish, and who you will benefit. If this is done well, the project will succeed. Municipal telecom networks are not for the feint of heart, make sure you have the fortitude to persevere.

9. If you’re building a network simply to accomplish lower prices for residents, don’t do it. The big folks have advantages that you don’t and they will use them in every way possible.

8. If you are planning to build your network in the hope the masses will subscribe, think again. Do your homework. Identify your current providers’ weaknesses and build a plan to exploit them. If that can’t be done, don’t waste your time

7. If you have found no weaknesses, look again. Hint: take a look at the service equation, remembering you too are a monopoly. That is reason No. 1 to find a private sector partner.

6. Recognize that there are key differences between public and private sector finance. Reason No. 2 to find a private-sector partner is to help you operate as a competitive for-profit business.

5. As you develop your business plan, seek help. This is Reason No. 3 to partner. The competitive telecom world is a good deal different than the world of government.

4. Prepare a list of non-negotiables…those things that the project must have, must do and cannot waver from. This work upfront can spare a lot of agony after things are operating.

3. Work with your partner to develop those few things that will measure the success of the project. No fewer than three, no more than seven…the indicators that will tell you things are sweet…or sour. Measure them as often as possible…at least weekly. Build on the sweet and deal quickly to mitigate the sour.

2. Communicate, communicate, communicate…and never stop doing so. Early on it’s important that you know your potential partner well and are convinced you have not just made a choice…but the right choice. After the selection is made, you must stay in touch to keep both parties on the same page.

1. Don’t make a deal until you are convinced that you have found exactly the right partner…one upon which your head and gut agree. And when you have found that right partner, get the hell out of the way and let them run. In other words, no micro-management. But for goodness sakes, communicate with each other every day…maybe more than once a day.

And from the provider’s perspective:

10. Test the vision…is it solid, does it reflect good thinking and does it match the views of the residents?

9. Do an exhaustive examination of the business plan, comparing it to your experiences. If it does not, say so, along with what needs to be done to bring it into synch.

8. Test the fortitude of the governing body to persevere in light of the challenges that are sure to emerge.

7. Is there a public leader, a charismatic figure who can help to push the project to fruition and success…a person who is trusted and admired?

6. Test the focus: are the public and community leaders committed to the network for the right reasons? Do they understand what is likely to happen? Do they have the courage to stand up to it?

5. Sit down with the city finance director and find out how prepared she or he is to meet your needs for financial information that is timely and comprised of all necessary elements. Be understanding; these are two different environments.

4. Have ready your list of non-negotiables…the things that you absolutely must have to do an effective job. Compare them with government’s list and reach agreement on each item on each list.

3. Provide helpful suggestions on those things that you believe will best indicate to all parties how the business is doing: Subscriber counts by service, total revenue and average revenue per unit (ARPU), bottom-line compared to budget, gross margin, number of return visits to newly installed customers, disconnects, customer feedback.

2. Communicate, communicate, communicate…and never stop doing so. Remember, your partner is new to your environment. Take every opportunity to enhance understanding of what you are doing and why.

1. Recognize the early signs of trouble (communications turning bad, rules that continue to change, everyone wants to steer the ship) and deal with them expediently.

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