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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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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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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What Would You Ask Econ Dev Professionals about Broadband?

Last year, I conducted my annual survey of International Economic Development Council (IEDC) members to get econ dev professionals’ take on how broadband impacts local economies. Here’s the final report from that exercise –  http://www.cjspeaks.com/msp/IEDC2012.pdf.

This year I made a few changes to the survey and distributed it to an audience that included local government staff, ISPs, consultants and others involved with broadband projects who aren’t economic development pros. The survey asked some new questions and tackled several different broadband policy issues. You can get that report here – http://cjspeaks.com/msp/BBC2013.pdf.

In a couple of weeks I’ll swing back full circle and survey IEDC members for 2013. I’ll present survey results I’d like the survey to be significantly different this time in terms of the kind of economic development issues it profiles. I’d like to get feedback from this blog’s readers to help shape the survey.

Should I probe how people are measuring economic success? Are there policy issues at the state and Federal levels that these folks who deal with local economies for a living should address? Are there questions that I missed with these last two surveys?

I need to have the survey designed and queued up by Monday (July 29), so anything you can suggest, add, etc. here over the next couple of days is greatly appreciated.

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