I Get Muni Broadband with a Little Help from My Friends

Particularly if you are in one of those States with restrictions on muni networks, communities could use some help with these friends: electric and other co-ops, and nonprofit organizations. Co-ops are starting to take note and commit to forming plans to develop community-focused (i.e. cheaper, faster, customer-serving) broadband infrastructure. Nonprofits as potential builders, owners and partners with communities aren’t talked about a lot in the media. However they should be.

Here are some thoughts to wet your whistle. These friends are valuable even if your state doesn’t have any prohibitions on community broadband.

Co-ops are your friends

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Not only are co-ops good for teaching how to form effective legislative partnerships, they can be great allies on broadband projects. “The City of Montrose is also working on a community anchor institution network project along with others,” says Virgil Turner. “The Delta-Montrose Electric Association (co-op) partnered with our regional council of governments by providing dark fiber to substations near each of the region’s small towns. From the substations, the region is building into carrier neutral location within each town and then on to the anchor institutions.”

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This Election, Take Muni Broadband Fight to Statehouses

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In the land that gave the world the Internet, it’s amazing that so many other countries in the world have better, faster broadband. Yet we’ve legislated public Internet networks out the picture in some states. A handful of people hinder millions from the potential benefits of muni broadband.

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Stop! Enough already! The FCC tried to beat the states in the courts, but that didn’t work. It’s time this election cycle to take the hardball politics to the state legislative arena where the source of the problem originated.

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donttread-econdev-yellow1Communities – support your allies, convert opponents to allies, support your opponents’ opponent. And this doesn’t end in November. Cities need to develop strategies and tactics to establish legislative policies and support even in states that have no restrictions on muni broadband.

My update to “How to Navigate, Mitigate or Eliminate the Impacts of State Restrictions on Public Broadband” offers recommendations you should read. Legislators such as Tennessee’s Janice Bowling and Kevin Brooks, Alabama’s Tom Whatley and others from both sides of the aisle need your help. The incumbents, the true source of these anti-muni network laws, are powerful. But the battles to important give up.

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Communities Determine What Broadband Success Is, Not Incumbents!

Over 500 public-owned networks operate in the United States, according to the Institute of Local Self-Reliance, including 89 fiber and 74 cable community-wide networks, and over 180 partial-reach fiber networks covering business districts, industrial parks and medical and university campuses. Evaluating these networks’ impact on job creation, education and stirring innovation, as well as their financial sustainability, uncovers hundreds of success stories that can be replicated.

A sizeable number of networks have been operating successfully since at least 2003, and some have been operating since the late 1990s. Check out out in our directory (to the left). These communities defined success as meeting the goals that communities used to justify the investments in their networks.

What happens, for example, if a town spends $1 million to build a network, and broadband is one of the main reason three companies moved to town and generate $500,000 in tax revenue? If the citizens are happy and feel tax revenues attributed to the network justify the expense, then that is a successful network. If a rural county’s citizens believe the quality-of-life benefits of highspeed Internet justifies the network costing $100,000 a year, they voted for that, and people are happier because of network-gereated services, then the network is a success.

Stop letting the incumbents dictate the terms of a community’s success. I’m compiling a directory of community network to help broadband teams understand how others measure success. The directory is an or-going project, but some trends are starting to take shape.

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Stand with Tennessee, Tell AT&T To Back Down!

Year ago I was sidelined with a stroke and my blog went on hiatus. But it’s back and issuing a rallying call as Tennessee legislators try to remove that state’s restriction on public- and co-op-run broadband.

Battle flagBroadband community, make your voices heard, make a difference in Tennessee! This law has got to go. Write the Governor of Tennessee. Better yet, call him – 615) 741-2001. Demand these legislators to stand up for their constituents’ right to get the best possible broadband they can, and tell AT&T to get the hell out of away! Call ’em, e-mail ’em, then ask your neighbors to do the same.

Let’s be clear here. Muni broadband is not “unfair competition” by local government. When Wilson’s 12-person IT department several years ago planned, built and managed a network that delivered speeds 20 times faster than the best Time Warner Cable offered, that’s competing with superior technology. When Comcast customers switch to Chattanooga’s 10-gig network because EPB offers far better customer service, that’s competent competition. When tiny Reedsburg, Wis. refuses to compete against the large cable company on price, but beats competitors by offering greater value provided by local management, they compete based on local credibility.

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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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Will Your 2014 Broadband Strategy Embrace Multi-Dweling Units? (pt 2)

Monday I described a strategy Santa Monica used a few years ago to build greater value for local multi-dweling unit (MDU) property owners to offer tenants, increase city tax revenue and generate new sales for the city-owned and operated network. Today I look at a second element of the city’s MDU strategy.

Sometimes smaller is better

While Santa Monica was wooing property owners, they looked in-house and realized that the City owned totally vacant properties around town. They also discovered that at least a dozen angel investors live and work in the city providing seed money to entrepreneurs with great ideas that wanted to advance to the prototype stage.

There weren’t any business incubators, which typically is where a lot of angels park the entrepreneurs they invest in, but there were these empty properties. So the City approached a couple of angel investors with a concept best described as mini-incubators.

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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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Posted in Administration, broadband policy, digital inclusion, Economic Development, Implementation strategies, Making the business case, Needs analysis, Network business planning, public private partnership, Uncategorized | 1 Response

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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Two Economic Development Lessons from Danville, VA’s Fiber Network

Danville’s City Manager Joe King is one of the speakers on a panel session about broadband’s impact on local economies I’m leading tomorrow at the Intl Economic Development Council annual conference. Some of the following story to give session attendees valuable insights to take back to their communities.

Danville, VA ’s public utility company (Danville Utilities) started its nDanville fiber network in 2004 to connect municipal and utility buildings, the K-12 schools, and then went commercial in 2006. nDanville now has 135 miles of fiber that passes more than 1000 business locations including five business parks. 100 Mbps is available to most commercial customers, and 1 gigabit and 10 gigabit services are available upon request.

nDanville was born as a last-ditch effort to save a town on Economic Death’s doorstep. As tobacco farming died out in the state, towns shrunk with the vanishing employment opportunities. Those in the workforce who remained faced serious challenges using their skillsets in other industries.

One of two important lessons to learn from nDanville stems from the question, is economic development helped best by using broadband to first attract new businesses, or do you work with your existing businesses first. Danville used the latter approach to facilitate the former.

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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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Posted in Economic Development, General analysis, Making the business case, Needs analysis, Network business planning, Strategic thinking, sustainability, Tactical thinking | 1 Response
  • Who’s Craig Settles?

    Industry analyst, expert broadband business strategist, runs on-site workshops to help clients create effective broadband plans.

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