It Takes a Village and Broadband to Raise a Startup

I’m in Kansas City this week for the Fiber to the Home Council conference “From Gigabit Envy to Gigabit Deployed.” Gigabit Nation will be broadcast live from here each day this week.

There are some great shows here you don’t want to miss.

Tuesday

It Takes a Village & Broadband to Raise a Startup

63% of participants in a national survey have seen communities use broadband to harness home-based businesses into a economic engine, or believe strongly that communities can do this. Gigabit Nation goes to Kansas City to spotlight this dynamic at work.

Wednesday

Transforming Education in a Gigabit World

One of broadband’s promised benefits is to dramatically change the process of educating children and adults. This broadcast explores how Kansas City can expect the new Google Fiber network to impact learning and knowledge retention while preparing students to live and work in the digital economy.

Thursday

Wireless Gigabit Drives KC Economic Development Too

Could Google’s heavy initial focus on residential subscribers, while putting the business community on the backburner, shortchange KCK’s and KCMO’s economic development hopes? Cultivating startups is a plus. But mid-size and large cities boost local economies by making existing companies of all sizes stronger, as well as attracting larger companies to town.

Friday

Kansas City Call-in 

So, what do the average resident or business owner in Kansas City think about Google Fiber? A lot of pundits and politicians and media folks, of course, have weighed in with lots of excited commentary. Join us for an hour of thought provoking discussion with those who stand to be impacted the most by Google coming to town.

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.

Community Foundations Boost Broadband and Economic Development

Today’s guest on my Gigabit Nation radio talk show, Sharon Stroh, gives us lots of valuable details on Steuben County, IN’s foundation that has made broadband possible for this rural area in Indiana. Before listening to the show, below is a helpful primer from fellow broadband advocate Larry Baumgart.

Community foundations are tax-exempt public charities serving thousands of people who share a common interest—improving the quality of life in their area. Individuals, families, businesses, and organizations create permanent charitable funds that help their region meet local challenges. (Check out the Council On Foundations)

The community foundation should be formed under the auspices of a Community Development Co-operative and could be used to coordinate grant applications and to issue community bonds for open access broadband networks, community media center, schools, clinics, etc.    This can be readily accomplished by transferring public land, worthy assets, into the community foundation to secure bonds which local residents can invest their money, savings, 401Ks, etc. and can not only get interest, but through a cooperative might reap dividends depending on how the funds are used.

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Gigabit Nation Takes the Chattanooga Choo Choo to the Internet’s Future

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The citizens, businesses and institutions of Chattanooga are living the Vita Gigabit, and loving it. It’s been just a short time (September 2009) since EPB, the city’s public utility, rolled out their fiber network. And an even shorter time since they began offering gigabit service over the network in September 2010. But the impact is far reaching.

James Ingraham

Jim Ingraham, EPB’s VP of Strategic Planning, has been in the thick of things since the beginning of the project. He led the development of the network’s business plan. On Gigabit Nation’s inaugural broadcast (7/27 2:00 p.m. EST), we’ll discuss:

1)    how EPB came to focus on smart grid as a main application of the fiber network, and what are the economic development implications of this decision;

2)    what are some of the cool uses and benefits of the network to date; and

3)    does the mesh network riding over the fiber have the potential to deliver on the dream of municipal wireless from several years ago?

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Guest Blogger Esme Vos: How Highspeed Wireless Broadband (Wi-Fi) Can Help Economically Depressed Communities

As my survey on broadband’s impact on economic development (sponsored by the International Economic Development Council – IEDC) wraps up, I want to spotlight one of the topics covered in the survey. The role of wireless is important, and here’s Muniwireless.com founder and industry maven Esme Vos with valuable insight on why you should consider WiFi in your broadband plans.

The economic crisis has devastated many communities, but the hardest hit are located in regions that have relied on manufacturing and farming as their primary sources of income. How does fast Wi-Fi help economically depressed communities?

There’s no doubt that high speed broadband is a necessity today, much as roads, bridges and railways were in the past century. Without broadband, it is nearly impossible to sell your goods and services beyond the limits of your town. Even porter guides for the Annapurna Trail in Nepal have Facebook accounts to keep in touch with their clients, urge them to come back and refer new clients to them.

Therefore, communities must try to get as much broadband as they can, in the cheapest way possible. Most communities cannot afford to bring fiber to every home even if that is the broadband nirvana that we all aspire to. Since the start of the economic crisis, it has been even more difficult to find financing for broadband projects (outside the federal stimulus grants).

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Tips for Maximizing Service Providers’ Role in Community Broadband

A mantra of self-sufficiency I’m passing on to communities that want better broadband is simple: “If broadband is to be, it is up to me.” With Congress’ latest move to create a legal framework for the FCC to implement its National Broadband Plan, the smoke of delaying tactics and the mirrors of incumbents’ PR trickery portends a rough future for community leaders.

As I stated in RCR Wireless:

The good news is that this issue of FCC authority is going to Congress. The bad news is, this issue is going to Congress where it could easily die the death of 1000 cuts. The best thing that could happen is Congress mandates the FCC, as a regulatory agency, has the authority to make whatever decisions it deems necessary to assure we get better broadband. The probable reality is that a bunch of people who wouldn’t know a byte if it bit them in the butt are going to try to tie the agency’s hands to the point of eliminating their effectiveness.

If it wasn’t clear earlier, there now should be no doubt that to a large extent, those of you in the trenches leading broadband efforts have to grab the bull by the horns to get the solutions you want. With luck, the FCC will be able to craft useful supporting policy to help you. One major component of the project you should address early is private sector involvement.

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WiFi a Serious Technology in the Broadband Mix?

Money may or may not be the root of all evil, but it is certainly the tail threatening to wag the dog for many communities’ broadband planning teams. At the California Emerging Technology Fund’s Rural Connections workshop last week, a number of people representing communities expressed concern they can’t move broadband forward until they can find money.

Make no mistake; you can’t build a network without a passel of dead presidents to fund it. But you can mitigate the money hurdles you face, particularly if you don’t put extra ones in your way.

During the broadband stimulus mania I noted people polarizing around either wireless or wired technology as the “one true broadband.” Reviewing Round 1 stimulus grant winners, NTIA/RUS apparently were heavily wired in their thinking. Then Google jumped into the pond with its gigabit fiber splash, and that definitely increased the “wired way or no way” disciples.

This, I have a problem with. Not the goal of gigabit speed, but the thinking that “real” broadband is fiber and anything else is a failure.

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Eliminate Weeks from Your NOFA 2 Prep Time!

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Some of you have followed my blog for months and know I’m pretty spot-on with my assessment of the broadband stimulus terrain, and broadband strategy in general. I bring this expertise to my evaluations of the few 3rd-party services I select to complement mine. Here are two that pass the test.

Eliminate weeks of the most time consuming and tedious work needed to complete the roughest part of the NOFA application with ID Insight and RidgeviewTel services. These services also increase the accuracy and impact of your application plus help you build a sustainable broadband network after you receive funding.

ID Insight’s BroadBand ScoutSM pulls details from millions of online retail transactions nationwide to enable you to determine broadband penetration down to the census block on connection type (broadband, dsl, cable, dial-up, etc.), data speeds and carriers. Give us the names of counties in your proposed service area, and we deliver the data for you to create or verify broadband coverage maps.

RidgeviewTel adds your BroadBand Scout data to their dBOSS Broadband Network Management Platform to:

  • aggregate the majority of necessary data NOFA 2 requires; 
  • format the data for GIS systems to visually render locations on a map;
  • apply the data through imaging and layering of the various data to create maps of broadband usage, unserved areas, RF propagation and the number of potential customers per mile for fiber networks; and
  • return the NOFA-required data to you in the formats needed to upload these files directly to NTIA’s and RUS’ NOFA application servers

Successful.com facilitates the logistics between you and both companies, provides valuable analysis services if needed and ensures that everything is in order when you submit your application. You can purchase our services together or a la carte.

E-mail or call us today (510-536-4522) for more details. March 15 isn’t that far away.

The Smart Path to Broadband Mapping

I often address the serious need for a broadband mapping strategy that doesn’t involve Connected Nation. Today I lay out one strategy for getting better maps faster, and for a much more reasonable cost than the alternative. 

Here’s why mapping is critical to underserved communities’ ability to get broadband, and why poor mapping threatens to derail broadband’s promised benefits and waste hundreds of millions of dollars. If you know this already, you can skip to the next section.

A non-techie’s guide to understanding mapping’s importance 

Broadband maps are graphic manifestations of THE most important element in broadband deployment – the needs analysis. The more accurately you determine which individuals, businesses and other organization need broadband, where they need it and what type broadband they need, the more likely it is you spend money wisely and deliver the best possible solution to communities.

Web maps represent the data that your needs analysis gathers. They’re database apps. Like any database, they are vulnerable to the truism “garbage in, garbage out.” Do flawed data collection (e.g. allow incumbents to hide critical data behind NDAs), you get flawed maps. Conversely, do a bang-up job of data collection, your maps rock. What’s equally true is that, if you use bad mapping technology, you get fairly useless maps. 

Bottom line: You’re working long hours and spending tons of money developing proposals for tens of millions of dollars. All of these actual and potential dollars could be lost if maps that suck due to no fault of your own lead to your proposal’s rejection. Those relying on good maps have the odds stacked in your favor.

From the Fed’s side, they’re giving away $4 billion with “fund, no-fund” decisions based heavily on broadband maps. The ratio of good to sucky maps will determine how well this $4 bil gets spent – or not. 

Those of you whose states have not signed a deal with a purveyor of bad maps (or didn’t do a bad job on their own) have a fighting chance to get maps done right. This is important even if you can’t get the ideal mapping data before the Aug 14 deadline for first-round stimulus funding. You may need to defend your proposal from incumbent of NTIA/RUS challenges, and the more data you have on hand, the stronger your defense.

Key components for useful maps  

Drew Clark, president of Broadband Census (a broadband news and mapping services company) believes any broadband map that’s worth its pixels and the price tag has to sufficiently represent SPARC data – Speeds, Prices, Availability, Reliability and Competition.

Speed data is not only how fast is the access, but what technology is delivering those speeds (WiFi, WiMAX, T1, DSL, etc). Besides advertised speeds (a joke in many cases), what are people actually getting at off-peak AND peak community usage times?

Pricing should include who doesn’t use broadband because the price is too high, or too high relative to actual speed delivered. Availability relates to determining down to every individual household or office where people can or can’t get access, but also is all of this data easily available to everyone in the community.

Reliability speaks to the ability for everyone within a coverage area to be able to get and stay online during emergencies, during peak usage or when trees get their leaves back. Intermittent access or frequently dropped connections is not reliable access. What’s more, reliability relates to whether or not the data is updated as changes occur and do those maps change in real time. 

Competition speaks for itself.

What’s the difference between a map that wastes your money and produces near-useless results, and a good map with the right amount of SPARC? Go to this article and scroll down a little bit to see the Connected Nation map for Summit County, OH. It’s devoid of value because it represent so little useful information. The pink represents any kind of coverage from dial up to fiber, none of it verified by an independent source.

The state of Ohio paid $7 million for maps that look like what you see here. Right below this is another map. For a fraction of that cost, Ohio could have received maps that resemble this one created by Strategic Networks Group.

Getting it done – one tactical approach 

This is a simple approach because, well, so often the best solutions are simple ones.

You want to start with a good map of census blocks for your area.  This tool from the Feds should help – http://mappingtool.broadbandusa.gov/DefaultARRA.aspx

Gather data from and about carriers in your proposed service area, keeping in mind you want as much SPARC information as you can pull. This is tedious since the largest carriers such as AT&T, Verizon and Time Warner want to give you as little as possible, while the smaller ones are hard pressed to put enough people and time to the task. 

Center for Communications Management Information (CCMI) collects data on nearly 650 carriers from the giants to local telecom companies via their tariff filings. Starting at $250, you can get a list of the carriers, their middle mile pricing, last mile pricing, listing of individual and business subscriber service packages, carriers’ advertised speeds. Final price depends on how much work they have to do to get what you want. You still have to track down wireless and cable providers, but you save a lot of time and aggravation getting the other data.

You can attempt to bribe or browbeat wireless and fiber providers not included in CCMI’s list for this information, plus try to get more granular data. This takes a lot of time, but you’ll likely find the smaller carriers to be much more cooperative than the big one. The latest clarifications from NTIA are supposed to make it easier to get carrier data. 

This next step compensates for all the data you won’t get from carriers. Conduct surveys of your individual and business constituents. Your objective is simple: find out who doesn’t have broadband, or enough broadband to meet their needs.

Contact a reputable mailing list company with a good track record for providing reliable data, spend several hundred dollars to get a list of addresses and phone numbers for all the residents and businesses in your proposed service area, and survey them. Ask a couple of questions about what services they’re getting, but mainly find out 1) who’s getting intermittent or no service, 2) is the speed that people are getting adequate, 3) is it affordable. For people not getting access, is it the lack of availability, affordability and/or relevance holding them back?  

Put people in the streets, on telephones, online. Snail mail surveys, print them in newspapers, insert them in shopping bags. Either through volunteer broadband activists, paid teenagers, government and service provider staff or all of the above. This data doesn’t have to take months, it can be a couple of weeks if you coordinate a full-court press.

Show who’s dBoss

What makes this tactic practical is a service such as that from RidgeviewTel. Your workforce distributing and gathering surveys or your constituents can, either directly online or by phone, enter this data into the company’s software called dBoss. Ridgeview’s dBoss then immediately records, aggregates and displays this data on a Web-based map that’ viewable within seconds. You can see the entire state or zoom down to someone’s doorstep.

You can layer on top of the CCMI and survey data any additional information on communication assets such as location of dark fiber, vertical assets, WiFi access points, Internet cafes and just about anything else related to broadband. Changes are propagated in real time. The University of Calif., Chico’s Center for Economic Development is doing a major mapping project in N. Calif., and they’re using a similar data-gathering method with in-house software, so this approach has merit. 

When you strip away all the government-speak, the PR hype, the geekazoid terminology, what a process like this gets you is a reasonably straightforward, accurate maps showing where people need broadband. Yes, it is labor intensive in some parts. But for a community of 10,000, you may be looking at $6,000 or $7,000 for get the technology components doing what they need to do, and whatever it costs you to mobilize an army of data collectors.

What you get in the end are maps that truly represent an effective needs analysis exercise, and this data is quickly updated as broadband coverage and broadband need evolves. You get way more useful data to make much better broadband decisions, and spend way less than the millions states have been soaked for to produce marginally useful maps.

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