Community Broadband and the Changing Free Market

Earlier today, my Gigabit Nation radio show tackled the source of many of our broadband woes – the lack of sufficient  broadband competition in the U.S. despite incumbents’ fairy tales to the contrary. The flip side of the same counterfeit coin of “robust competition” is the claim that the free market can meet all of our broadband needs and local governments cannot. Pul-leaze!

Last week I had to lay out the facts of broadband life to dispel this “free market” myth. Someone who clearly did not listen to my interview with Loma Linda, CA about their muni-owned network tried to make the case, “The free market insures that a provider delivers the services the market demands at a fair price or competition steals the business..[broadband]..should be left to market players who know the business best, understand the risks, and who risk their OWN money or that of investors willing to risk their own.”

However, his conclusion about government’s inability to succeed and the state of competition are proven not true. How’s that? First, take Loma Linda. As everyone who listens to the interview will learn, the City started their network specifically because the incumbents wouldn’t or couldn’t provide services to meet individuals’ and companies’ needs, and no free market competitor was there to fill the void. So the City filled it. FURTHERMORE, the City runs a multi-product/service  broadband business that breaks even. Meaning the business is paying all of its bills. Has been for some time. 

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How to Prep for the Upcoming FCC Pilot Funding Program

Got a call the other day with an inside scoop about an upcoming FCC funding opportunity that’s a promising way to distribute money from the oft maligned Connect America Fund (CAF). This likely will lead to a feeding frenzy not seen since the days when the NTIA and RUS broadband stimulus programs launched.

Community stakeholders, public utilities, ISPs and “nontraditional” potential providers of Internet services want to know: 1) will we even qualify given the restrictive nature of past CAF funding, 2) how much money are we taking here and 3) most importantly, how do we get our hands on it?

It’s hinted that any entity is eligible, but time will tell. Total dollars available – unknown Check out the details, what few there are, on my Gigabit Nation radio show interview from last week. My job here today is to tell you how to prep to get a piece of the pie.

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In Underserved Communities, Small Numbers Can Add Up to Big Econ Dev Wins

Tennessee has a big-time gigabit winner. No, not them, Pulaski. Sure, Chattanooga gets a mountain of media coverage. But Pulaski, TN is no slouch in the success department, even if many people don’t know them. However, the town measures success in small numbers.

One of the on-going discussions regarding broadband and economic development is, do we focus more resources initially on trying to attract new business, or on improving the businesses we already have. The media tends to give more coverage to attracting new companies, probably because a company bringing 1000 new jobs is big news.

Similar to many small towns and rural counties, Pulaski’s emphasis is more on existing business. “The golden rule of economic development is, take care of what you got,” states Dan Speer, Executive Director of the Pulaski Giles County Economic Development Council. Take care of your existing companies first. There’s no question they will use it. If you’re lucky enough to get a company to come in because of the broadband, then that’s gravy.”

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The Gigabit Nation Top 10 for 2013

Gigabit Nation started in 2011 as a radio talk show to give listeners valuable news and instruction on how to bring faster, better broadband to communities nationwide. The show is now also a repository and reference center for best practices that help broadband project teams manage the business operations logistics of community broadband.

As each year begins, it’s good to look back over the most popular shows to see which broadband deployment issues drew the biggest interest, re-learn the lessons these presented, and predict a little about which issues will be important in the upcoming year. Nearly 80,000 broadcasts have been streamed or downloaded since the first Gigabit Nation broadcast highlighted Chattanooga’s public-owned network.

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Will Your 2014 Broadband Strategy Embrace Multi-Dweling Units? (pt 2)

Monday I described a strategy Santa Monica used a few years ago to build greater value for local multi-dweling unit (MDU) property owners to offer tenants, increase city tax revenue and generate new sales for the city-owned and operated network. Today I look at a second element of the city’s MDU strategy.

Sometimes smaller is better

While Santa Monica was wooing property owners, they looked in-house and realized that the City owned totally vacant properties around town. They also discovered that at least a dozen angel investors live and work in the city providing seed money to entrepreneurs with great ideas that wanted to advance to the prototype stage.

There weren’t any business incubators, which typically is where a lot of angels park the entrepreneurs they invest in, but there were these empty properties. So the City approached a couple of angel investors with a concept best described as mini-incubators.

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Will Your 2014 Broadband Strategy Embrace Multi-Dweling Units? (pt 1)

As economic development pros and others develop strategies for using broadband to boost their local economies, here’s one strategy you should consider that can achieve this goal PLUS increase the financial strength of the network. Are you selling owners of commercial multi-dwelling units (MDUs) on being anchor tenants of the network?

Analyze Santa Monica, CA’s execution of this strategy so you can repeat their success. The City of Santa Monica’s IT Department built its initial fiber network infrastructure in 2004 primarily to replace the city government’s aging data and voice communication networks, saving $750,000 in the first year. Then they discovered offering services to local businesses attracted new companies and jobs.

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