Written by: Frank Bronzo, Principal
It has been several months since the initial work from home (WFH) order was set in motion in the state of Ohio. Looking back prior to the pandemic, we observed communities that prioritized high speed connectivity, moving the needle forward. We noted businesses having more tools for growth and residents having the ability to experience a better quality of life. Legislation was passed that allocated monies to ensure the digital divide in Ohio was reduced, with the goal of one day eliminating social inequity. COVID-19 has accelerated the need for ubiquitous high speed internet access and has placed a magnifying glass on the immediate need of high-speed broadband connectivity to learn, work, and function from home. The WFH order eliminated access to public wi-fi and negatively affected rural communities who depend on those services, and now require service at their homes. Broadband access has forever become an essential utility.
As a consulting professional with 30 years of experience, I am fulfilled at work when I am engaged on projects that make a noticeable difference to the lives of people in the community and support the things they love. Over the past 15 years, the ability to work on these types of projects has grown, some due to self-imposed initiatives, others due to outside forces we now call “disruptions in the marketplace”. I have been fortunate to work on numerous broadband deployment projects during different phases of the project life cycle and have learned that as you are evaluating the need for a broadband utility initiative in your community, you should start by considering the following five elements:
1.Existing Service: What services are presently offered in your community and who is offering those services? Is it likely that the incumbent provider(s) will be able to service all geographies in your community? If so, what is the timeline? What is the incumbent provider charging for each level of service?
2. Community Outreach: Surveying your business and residential community at a grassroots level is critical to developing a plan for implementation of a broadband utility. This dataset will aid in the analysis of a potential business model for the utility.
3. Existing Infrastructure: What existing assets are available in the community that will aid in implementation, operation, and maintenance of a broadband utility?
4. Operation: Deciding on the mode of operation of a potential broadband utility is an important piece of the overall planning process. Is the utility something the municipality would like to operate, or should the utility be operated by a concessionaire? There are various questions to be answered when making this decision. Questions and answers will be unique to each community. Regardless, your decision will often require an internal “staff champion” who can rally public interest and pursue overall project implementation.
5. Business Plan: How will the utility services be offered? Where will it be offered and when? Will the installation be phased? The answers to these questions will allow you to develop a schedule and budget that aligns with the overall vision.
While there is not a one size fits all solution to every community, these five elements are critical to forming the foundation on which to build your project. I believe these projects, if done properly, enhance community’s ability to continue to reduce the digital divide and will be the single most effective way to achieve social equality in their communities.