Broadband Communities

AUG-SEP 2014

BROADBAND COMMUNITIES is the leading source of information on digital and broadband technologies for buildings and communities. Our editorial aims to accelerate the deployment of Fiber-To-The-Home and Fiber-To-The-Premises.

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30 | BROADBAND COMMUNITIES | www.broadbandcommunities.com | AUGUST/SEPTEMBER 2014 COMMUNITY BROADBAND Worst Practices In Community Broadband – Part Two If a community broadband network is to succeed and beneft the community, board members and managers must be prepared to run it like a business. By Andrew M. Cohill / Design Nine T he notion of "worst practice" in community broadband projects started as a kind of joke. In my work with communities that wanted to invest in broadband infrastructure, I was asked very frequently, "What is best practice from other communities?" I would often respond, "No, no, you should be asking me what 'worst practice' is." In the three years since my frst "worst practice" article (published in the March-April 2011 issue of this magazine), I have had the opportunity to observe and learn from many other community-based projects in the U.S. Not all of them involve direct government ownership, so the lessons learned apply equally to municipal eforts and public-private partnerships. I continue to see three types of problems. Business and management issues crop up in cities where there is a mistaken belief that a community-based broadband efort is some kind of charitable enterprise or that, like a sidewalk, it can be forgotten about once it is installed. Whether a community makes very modest investments in passive infrastructure, such as conduit and dark fber, or adds network equipment and sells circuits, the enterprise has to be run as a business. Te second problem area has to do with managing growth. Many community eforts very appropriately start small, which reduces fnancial risk. However, I see some projects lose energy and attention once that phase one infrastructure is built. Te last area is marketing. Tere is no natural monopoly for broadband infrastructure as there is for other types of infrastructure, such as water or sewer systems. Community-based projects need ongoing marketing and public awareness eforts to meet take-rate targets and to keep projects on a path to fnancial stability. BUSINESS ISSUES Not running the network as a business. Telecom infrastructure has to generate revenue both to repay local government for any capital funds provided to build the network and to meet ongoing operating expenses. I see projects led by boards with little or no business experience and senior staf who also lack a solid record of success in the private sector. Any board of directors should have at least two members with substantial business experience; experience with startups is especially important. Thinking it is a monopoly. Tere is an argument to be made that basic broadband infrastructure is a natural monopoly at some level. However, the philosophical argument for why communities should invest in broadband infrastructure shouldn't be muddled up with the operational approach to the enterprise. In the late 1800s, New York City had 18 private water companies. In some parts of the city, residents could pick from three diferent water

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