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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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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Colorado Muni Networks Win Twin Victories at the Ballot Box!

One of the more deceitful of the telco/cableco tactics to eliminate municipal-owned broadband networks is the state-legislated local referendum asking citizens to approve these projects. Mercifully, the Colorado cities of Longmont and Centennial blew the doors off that strategy, and with barely a whimper from Comcast, a lead antagonist of that state’s public network efforts .

As Longmont discovered, these incumbent-engineered “referendum” laws cloaked in the illusion of democracy requires voter approval of even the intent to consider local government- or public utility-ownership of a broadband network. The sleight of hand at work here is this. City governments typically are the entity putting a measure to fund a broadband network on the ballot, but government officials are legally prevented from saying anything publicly in favor of the measure. Incumbents, on the other hand, can and have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars per election to defeat the initiative.

Yesterday, both Longmont and Centennial won their referendums (by 2: 1 and 3:1 margins respectively) to  control city-owned infrastructure and the means by which each city facilitates bringing better, faster broadband to constituents.

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Building the Gigabit City Demands the Right Foundation

Using broadband to impact local economic development is not an exact science and it may never be. However, there are some threads of commonality that run through many of the community broadband success stories. Here are a few.

Needs analysis – don’t leave home without it

Unless you do sufficient needs analysis early and often, your efforts are in peril before you even leave the gate. In  eight years of surveying economic development professionals nationwide, I’ve frequently found that some policymakers speaking on behalf of broadband are on a different page than those who work dealing with economic issues daily. For example, some FCC and other D.C. policymakers at times have been prone to put wireless on a pedestal as the Great Broadband Hope, whereas the econ dev professionals consistently report that fiber networks have a greater economic impact.

Only by doing thorough analyses can community stakeholders uncover the extent of constituents’ needs, and determine how meeting those needs will lead to financial sustainability of the network. Meeting these needs wins subscribers, which ties directly to your success. If you can’t cover a significant portion of your network’s operating costs, it won’t be an effective economic development tool.

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The “Building the Gigabit City” National Tour

Longmont, CO’s point person for the city’s gigabit buildout, Vince Jordan, recently said he gets lots of calls from Colorado communities asking how to move forward with similar networks. His observations inspired me to create a special training program to give communities the building blocks to replicate U.S. gigabit success stories.

As those billions of stimulus dollars in middle mile network buildouts nationwide begin lighting up, communities are realizing a whole lot of work is still required to get actual Internet services into their neighborhoods. Quite a few also are realizing they don’t know quite how to plan or pay for these communitywide last mile networks.

So my program is a full-day, roll-up-your-sleeves-and-work event limited to 20 jurisdictions max, and broken down into five sessions. Each session, addresses a specific skill set, and is tailored to local issues and addressing attendees’ feedback I gather from pre-workshop questionnaires and worksheets.

The key element is the consulting. My advice is customized to workshop attendees’ questions and needs. Attendees build skills in implementing key tasks necessary for moving broadband projects forward. My book, Building the Gigabit City, continues the skills development by expanding on lessons learned during the workshop.

Sessions overview

  1. Recruiting key community stakeholders
  2. Effective constituent data gathering and needs assessments
  3. Assessing business models and funding options
  4. Finding the “one thing”
  5. Marketing strategy and tactics

This is the initial list of cities where the training sessions will take place. If your state’s not included, call me: 510-387-4176.

There are also sponsorship opportunities for companies that want to participate in a unique marketing outreach program targeted to decision makers ready to move broadband projects forward.

Six Steps for Moving Your Broadband Project Forward

Getting faster better is increasingly becoming an imperative. However, as much as stakeholders can see the value of the a highspeed network, the question of how to get from here to there stymies probably 50% of communities. And they can’t get out of the starting gate.

One major hurdle to moving forward is that folks often don’t know what questions to ask and to whom to ask them. Cities such as Chattanooga and Lafayette get calls and e-mails weekly from those seeking help, but it’s hard to keep your own network running if you’re constantly providing startup consulting.

The question asked 90% of the time is, how are we going to pay for a network? This isn’t a cheap adventure. Once the issue of money is raised, politics rears its head in all its local, state and federal permutations that can produce a morass of fear, uncertainty and doubt that further impedes the go/no-go decisions.

To get your communities to stop circling the question of “how do we get highspeed Internet access?” and get off the dime to actually move forward with a project that has reasonably good chance for success, consider the following six steps.

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Building the Gigabit City – My Latest Book Launches

Last week I released my first e-book, Building the Gigabit City. Enthusiasm for building broadband networks on their own or in public private partnerships is growing rapidly in communities across the U.S. But there’s so much that people need/want to know about community broadband, it’s almost impossible to bring it altogether in one place. Building the Gigabit City focuses on the needs assessment process. Do this part right and you significantly increase your odds for having a successful broadband project.

BGC smallerSuperfast broadband significantly boosts local economies, transforms education, improves healthcare delivery and increases local government efficiency. Building the Gigabit City helps you ask the right questions so you can do the same for your constituents.

Pulling valuable lessons from many of the 340 communities with successful broadband networks, this multimedia guide overflows with practical advice. Building the Gigabit City, produced in partnership with Gigabit Squared, helps rural and urban communities:

 

  1. ignore the hype surrounding gigabit networks;
  2. understand what super-fast access can and cannot do for your community;
  3. conduct effective needs assessment; and
  4. plan effective broadband strategy.

Here’s the Table of Contents

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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

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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Interview with Jonathan Adelstein on New $700 Million Broadband Program

The USDA’s Rural Utilities Services (RUS) recently announced they’re hoping to make $700 million available for broadband projects through the agency’s Farm Bill Broadband Program. While not as substantial as the BIP program, nevertheless this is a sizeable enough payload to make a big difference in a fair number of communities. However, the actual money hasn’t been appropriated yet, so RUS is doing a Notice of Solicitations of Applications (NOSA). NOSA = send us an application to hold your place in the queue so you get money when we get money.

This is strictly a loan program, no grants involved. Big plus – it’s open to everyone including communities and public private partnerships. Other good news is that the baseline for what constitutes broadband is 5 Mbps symmetrical for wireline networks, and 3 Mbps symmetrical for wireless. You can read details on the program here.

I caught up with RUS Administrator Jonathan Adelstein by phone to ask a few questions and get some additional insights into RUS’ latest efforts to bring broadband to unnerved communities. There are a couple of key differences between this and the BIP program, plus useful information to help you get a handle on how to approach the loan process. I’ll have my own analysis here tomorrow.

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