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.

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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.

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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Walking in the Shoes of Poor Kids Using Broadband

Just before the holidays, a columnist (Gene Marks) for Forbes Magazine wrote a piece “If I Was a Poor Black Kid.” It presents how he would handle life and deal with technology if, instead of being a middle class, middle aged white guy from the suburbs, he were walking in a poor kid’s shoes. The resulting firestorm was swift, intense and largely negative, not as much for the ideas as for Marks’ tone and erroneous assumptions behind those ideas.

Unfortunately, one of the underlying causes for these off-the-mark assumptions is the stereotype that urban poor kids don’t do anything worthwhile on the Internet. So many articles about digital inclusion efforts or broadband adoption among inner city poor folks are followed by incendiary commentary from those who believe poor kids are lazy, only surf porn, aren’t capable of learning and a host of other fallacies.

There’s quite a different reality when you do a little research. There are projects going on that are lifting kids out of poverty and setting them on various tech-related career paths. Here are a couple that should be promoted and replicated in some way by those individuals, government agencies and organizations wanting to close the digital divide.

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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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Funding Broadband by Turning Users Into Investors

Let’s explore a different strategic approach to funding.

In 2009 I came across National Community Development Services, Inc. (NCDS), which specializes in boosting the economic health of communities through a process they term economic development fundraising. The concept is simple, really, and can be applied to broadband projects where one of the main goals is to use the network to improve economic development. Build a financial sustainability strategy based on a campaign to recruit investors for the network.

As I find interesting guests to invite to be on my radio show, Gigabit Nation, I’m finding a theme that keeps recurring in slightly different forms, but with the same bottom line – fund a network by convincing local businesses, not-for-profits and other organizations to underwrite the costs. One variation to that are co-ops, such as the Mountain Area Information Network (MAIN) that I’m highlighting on tomorrow’s show.

We’re not talking investors as a euphemism for “subscribers,” but people who invest more than the price of service in exchange for a piece of the action. This aligns with my position that communities need to treat broadband networks as a business venture.

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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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Headlines

I haven’t been putting out as much commentary lately, what with two trips to Dallas (one for Broadband Summit) and a broadband site visit to Chattanooga. Details on the Chattanooga trip should be out this weekend. But here are a few of the pieces I’ve written tackling broadband marketing and also broadband’s potential impact on economic development.

 Community Fiber Networks Succeed Through Marketing

The controversy that exploring community broadband generated had two positive outcomes: first, it generated much awareness through the resulting publicity, and second, the municipality and the utility had to prove its case to the public. By winning support from key stakeholders and elected officials early on, RUC built a stronger position from which to market its broadband services. The community understood and supported the network before it was a reality.

Google, Kansas City and the Nation’s Gigabit Economic Policy

Clearly network speed and quality heavily influence local communities’ ability to use broadband to recruit businesses, and the federal government must address this issue if it really wants broadband to be an economic engine for urban or rural areas. Global commercial real estate services firm Colliers International recently surveyed corporate real estate directors and senior portfolio managers to determine the importance Corporate America places on factors that can influence where businesses locate. On a scale from 1 to 10, fiber optics rated 9 or 10 across most industries surveyed.

In the queue

Besides highlighting some of the great things that are happening with gigabit broadband in Chattanooga, I have a few columns in the hopper that tackle: DC’s flawed fixation with adoption rather than how it is people use broadband; the need for communities to battle broadband foes in state legislatures; and the need continue focusing on broadband’s economic impact.

An Open Letter to N Carolina Gov. Bev Perdue: Support Community Broadband

I just called North Carolina Gov. Purdue’s office to explain why passing H129 – that abomination of anti-muni network legislation – would be bad for the state and the community broadband movement nationwide – 919-733-2391. It’s your turn.

Here’s an open letter from Harvard professor and legal scholar Lawrence Lessig to Gov. Purdue. It’s worth the read.

Dear Governor Perdue:

On your desk is a bill passed by the overwhelmingly Republican North Carolina legislature to ban local communities from building or supporting community broadband networks. (H.129). By midnight tonight, you must decide whether to veto that bill, and force the legislature to take a second look.

North Carolina is an overwhelmingly rural state. Relative to the communities it competes with around the globe, it has among the slowest and most expensive Internet service. No economy will thrive in the 21st century without fast, cheap broadband, linking citizens, and enabling businesses to compete. And thus many communities throughout your state have contracted with private businesses to build their own community broadband networks.

These networks have been extraordinarily effective. The prices they offer North Carolinians is a fraction of the comparable cost of commercial network providers. The speed they offer is also much much faster.

Read the rest here. Then take action!

The World Wide Wait is Over in Pulaski, TN

Today I begin a two-day broadband site visit in Chattanooga, TN to check out the progress of their public utility’s (EPB) broadband network. One of the objectives of the visit is to put a face (well, several faces, really) on community broadband success.

Incumbent telcos, cable companies and their allies like to attack community networks by portraying them as failures. But in reality, over 130 of these networks are up and running quite successfully, thank you very much.

Chattanooga has done an excellent job promoting their successes, and the hits keep on coming. But they’re not the only superstars in Tennessee. I’ve interviewed Dan Speers a couple of times. He’s Executive Director of the Pulaski-Giles County Economic Development Council.

As I’m running around gathering all kinds of interesting stories and insights from Chattanooga, this is a good lead-in article for you to get a feel for what’s happening in this state.

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