Can’t Afford Broadband for Your Community? Think again.

I spent Monday and Tuesday this week at the Freedom to Connect (F2C) conference in DC, which was a great event on many levels. One truly cool aspect was hanging out with a bunch of advocates and doers who believe in the power of communities finding their best broadband solutions (from a myriad of public, private and nonprofit options) to address the dismal state of broadband in the US.

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With this as a backdrop, I launched my latest Community Broadband Snapshot Report, “Getting Off the Dime: Finding Alternative Sources to Fund Community Broadband Networks.” It is what the title suggests, a document to get people moving to find new ways of funding broadband buildouts.

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This excerpt from the Introduction cuts to the chase as to why you, your project team, community stakeholders and everyone else who cares about the quality of broadband in your area need to read this document today.

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“We have been marinated in a corporate culture that believes only a Fortune 500 company is able to deal with high tech,” observes Wally Bowen, founder and Executive Director of the nonprofit Mountain Area Information Network (MAIN). However, quite a few communities hold the power to produce for themselves that which large incumbents fail to deliver – blazingly fast and affordable Internet access.

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I spent a few days chatting with people in the trenches who are making good things happen with broadband because they revised old scripts, or took chances and wrote new scripts to find/earn money to build infrastructure. The concepts are easy to grasp, though the execution requires serious dedication and lots of hard work by stakeholders.

This report is especially timely because today and tomorrow, the Schools, Health and Libraries Broadband (SHLB) Coalition and NTIA have brought together broadband stimulus winners for a two-day conference, also in D.C. It’s a huge gathering of folks talking about the progress of those many Fed-funded broadband projects.

A few months ago I wrote about a particular flaw in the broadband stimulus program that could come back to bite the Feds in the butt. Remember, a large part the program’s mission was to underwrite broadband buildouts in communities incumbents refuse to deal with because the payback (ROI) won’t justify incumbents’ investment.

The flaw is this. A sizeable portion (over half) of the $7.2 billion went into middle mile projects to build thousands of miles of fiber infrastructure. But what about last mile? Well, most of those middle mile networks leave the last mile up to the communities they pass. It’s sort of like building a highway by towns, and telling the towns to build roads and onramps to the highway.

What few people seem to be willing to talk about in public is, who the hell’s going to be able to afford to build the last mile? Think about it. If the incumbents weren’t willing to spend money to build out true highspeed network into communities before the stimulus, why do you think they’re going to suddenly build out highspeed now? Communities that were unattractive to incumbents before the stimulus are still expensive to build out today, plus most haven’t risen from their economic doldrums.

As communities wake up to the realization that the potential of broadband is just over the rise but just beyond their reach, they’re going to have to deal with the reality of having to hunt for cash for building the last mile to reach the digital promise land. For all those communities, this report’s for you.

A big Thank You goes out to Ciena Communications and CapeNet for their sponsorship that made this report possible.

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