Moving the Needle Forward on Broadband & Economic Development

August and September, in partnership with the International Economic Development Council (IEDC), I conducted a national survey of IEDC members and others affiliated with IEDC. The primary goal was to get a snapshot of how broadband impacts local economic outcomes. A secondary goal was to gather some insights to leveraging broadband as an economic development asset.

This is the only survey that goes directly to the people who work in the trenches daily impacting local economic outcomes. Here is where I separate some of the hype surrounding broadband’s power to transform local economies with some reality checks. Some of the findings from this year’s survey include:

  • only 11% of economic developers believe broadband’s biggest economic benefit to individuals is helping them find jobs;
  • 18% of respondents have insufficient speeds to produce economic outcomes listed and have given up hope for a solution; Continue reading

Sneak Peek at Broadband and Economic Development Data

Over the years, I’ve heard some rather impressive claims about the economic healing power of broadband. Talking to people in the trenches, though, I get a different sense of what we should expect and how we will achieve it.

Why is this important? Decision makers in local, state and federal government who don’t fully understand broadband or local economic development launch major broadband initiatives and funding programs involving millions, maybe billions, of dollars. Unfortunately, the results can be frustrating, insufficient, wasteful and generally less than desirable.

The solution? Start by going to the people who have the answers.

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Your Broadband Education Straight from the Source

Nowhere else on the Web can you find such a complete source of first-hand broadband project management and policy experience. And this knowledgebase grows weekly.

Last August I launched Gigabit Nation, the only radio talk show devoted to broadband, and have amassed quite a treasure trove of excellent insights as well as advice from people immersed in broadband projects and policy. Over 60 hours of interviews with public, private and nonprofit sector leaders who are getting broadband done.

Below is just a sampling of Gigabit Nation interviews. Go to the show’s Web site to get the complete list of archived shows. And don’t miss my upcoming shows. There are new guests and new topics every week. Tell your friends.

[Take this 5-minute survey to influence topics for future shows]

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This Week on Gigabit Nation (June 29)

Seven-Point Game Plan for a Winning Broadband Co-op Strategy

Today’s show tackles the topic of co-ops. They are covered in my report on alternative funding, but a group in Colorado brings another dimension to this tactic.

My guest Frank Ohrtman, former manager in the Colorado Office of Information Technology, explains how his regional co-op unites the efforts of co-ops within 40 of the state’s 64 counties. Bringing these dispersed organizations under one umbrella enables all the communities to benefit from some economy of scale when it comes to planning, executing creative broadband tactics and leveraging best practices.

Ohrtman shares with listeners a 7-point strategic plan for maximizing the efforts of co-ops and other organizations working with community stakeholders to bring broadband to the area. He also gives our audience a few recommendations on how to build and effectively manage a regional co-op. Don’t miss this interview (the archive will be at this URL if you miss the live show).

How local businesses can fund your broadband buildout

Yesterday, listeners learned about the power of having local businesses fund broadband projects, particularly in urban areas where there’s a misconception that everyone in the big city has all the broadband they need. OSIsoft CEO Pat Kennedy describes how and why his company is underwriting a buildout in San Leandro, CA.

Are there several local businesses that care about your community economic development? They don’t have to be ISPs or even tech companies. Get three or four companies together that will benefit directly from a highspeed network, and who care about the community overall prospering, and present them with a vision of what broadband can do for your community. You’ll be surprised with the results.

Listen to Kennedy discuss what steps are important to make this tactic work. Though you have to work hard to get all the pieces to fall into place, this is a manageable process that can be just the ticket for generating necessary dollars for CapEx.

You can get gig service for under $100/months

You don’t have to live in South Korea to get 1-gig broadband speed for less than $100 a month. Gigabit Nation’s guest on Tuesday, CityLink Telecommunications CEO John Brown laid out just how you do that.

This show took on two misconceptions that appear to be holding some communities back from pursuing broadband. One is that the cost of deploying fiber is so expensive that you can’t keep the service affordable for most constituents. Brown contends that proper planning and effective cost management by ISPs can lead to a high quality network, and still give them room for generating profits from sub-$100 subscriber fees.

We also discussed the erroneous assumption that user-financed broadband networks cannot generate sufficient dollars for buildout, or to stay competitive over the long run. Brown presents listeners with insights from broadband projects that have residents and businesses paying for both the buildout as well as monthly operations.

Check out this broadcast and see how you can step up your cost management efforts without sacrificing quality.

Igniting a Fire Under US Broadband

Yesterday the White House announced two major developments. First, President Obama today will sign an Executive Order that mandates all the agencies managing Federal properties and roads create a uniform approach for allowing broadband carriers to build networks on and through those assets. This “build once” strategy should save an estimated 90% of the typical network infrastructure buildout cost.

Today also marks the launch of US Ignite, a long-developing project that brings together 100 or so public, private and nonprofit organizations in an effort to pool/integrate resources to streamline gig app development nationwide. It’s a little complex, but the gist of it is: build a bunch of gig network testbeds, unite university and community creativity, supplement it with private vendor contributions and churn out a bunch of apps, some of which are bound to be winners. In the end, broadband gets deployed faster coast to coast.

Both efforts have potential to turn out some pretty cool advancements in the U.S.’ march to nationwide broadband connectivity that yields the technology’s many promised benefits. As with everything involving politics, policy and money, the results can be a mix of the good, the bad and the unexpected. It’s all about execution.

Here’s my preliminary take on these announcements. Later today on my Gigabit Nation radio show, I interview a number of leading players within the US Ignite partnership to give you some additional insights from those intimately involved in the program.

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In Broadband, the Questions Not Asked Can Kill Ya

I tell people in my presentations and workshops that knowing the right questions to ask is often equally or more important than the answers you get. Or the corollary of this philosophy, the questions you don’t ask could doom your project.

The ship Titantic’s front hull was built and fortified in answer to the question “what if we hit an iceberg head on?” But the ship’s demise came from no one apparently asking the question, “what if the ship sideswipes an iceberg?” Titantic’s bow could take a major hit and sustain damage in a way that probably wouldn’t have sunk her. But alas, the iceberg that did her in scraped the less durable side of the ship, slicing open four compartments that ultimately flooded and sunk the ship.

A common question today from critics of communities’ desire for a gigabit network is, “who needs a gigabit?” A question driven logically but shortsightedly by the fact that very few applications exist that can move a gigabit per second.

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The Middle Mile/Last Mile Disconnect

Last Thursday Washington, DC announced they’re powering up a 100-gig network, funded in large part by broadband stimulus money. If I’m not mistaken they’re the only urban area to get money for an infrastructure project. That’s kind of a pity since urban areas have some pressing infrastructure needs that get ignored by the media. But more on that in a future post.

This week I tackled another challenging issue represented by the DC deal that gets ignored by much of the media, and probably policymakers as well. What do you do about connecting all of these middle mile projects to last mile (or first mile, as my UK friends regularly remind me) projects? Huh. You say you haven’t heard about a lot of projects connecting consumers and businesses to those stimulus-funded middle mile buildouts? That’s my point.

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Outspent 60:1, Longmont Kicks Comcast’s Assets

Comcast and its allies spent $300,000 to unleash every trick and tactic in the campaign playbook to try to kill a measure that gives Longmont, CO citizens and businesses the right to pick their own best broadband solutions. Measure 2A supporters spent $5,000, if that.

Yea though we walk through the valley in the shadow of Comcast’s desire to annihilate our communities’ right to choose our best broadband solutions, we hold our fear in check and engage the foe because we believe it is possible for the underdog to win.   

I made that up last night as I headed out to prep one of my soccer teams for our biggest game of the season. I was feeling pumped after receiving the news that Longmont, CO’s Measure 2A was on its way to victory. The underdog had stood tall in the face of a huge corporation’s relentless efforts to buy a local election rather than compete in the free market. However, despite being outspent 60 to 1, Measure 2A won with 60% of the vote.

There are some valuable lessons for other communities to learn from Longmont’s duel with a corporate giant hell-bent on leveling all opposition in its path – and win. Some communities that have broadband dreams of their own, particularly those in Colorado, have watched the battle to gauge how things might turn out in their particular towns and counties. These elections are no walk in the park, but as we see, they are winnable.

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Vision Check at Google’s Gigabit (Kansas) Cities

Near the end of June I swung into the two Kansas Cities (Kansas and Missouri) to see how things are going now that the euphoria was starting to wear off from the announcement that Google is awarding both cities a gigabit network. This was probably one of the most anticipated announcement in the tech world this century. But of course, after the euphoria comes the hard work.

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Take the Chattanooga Choo Choo to Broadband’s Future

“Chattanooga is what the Internet will look like in 10 years. We’re 10 times faster 10 years sooner than the goals established in the National Broadband Plan.”  Harold DePriest, President – EPB.

My May broadband site visit to Chattanooga was very enlightening. Something akin to time travel as I got to see some interesting applications made possible by a highspeed fiber network that’s now capable of delivering a gigabit per second of Internet access speed. This is what most of the U.S. could look like in 5 or so years if we could just get the big telcos out of the way.

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