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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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.

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