Broadband Destinies:
Digital tales of ordinary places doing extraordinary things
May 10 2010

by tmartin on May 10, 2010

Please share!

TIME TO VISIT broadband again!

I’ve been watching all the back and forth with legal debates and policy setting and general jockeying for position and the one thing that strikes me is this: the train has left the station.

And the local regions are driving.

I like to think that our very own OpenCape project (http://www.opencape.com) – and its regional middle mile open access infrastructure – was a leader, but the reality is OpenCape is part of larger trend.

I can speak only for myself, but when you live someplace off the beaten path like we do, after a while you just throw up your hands at the yakety-yak of big metro areas and focus instead on finding solutions that help you in your day to day life.

Which is exactly what is happening in places as diverse as Utah, Virgina, Vermont, Louisiana, and of course, Cape Cod and the Berkshires.

The latest project I heard about this week has a sort of pretentious name – UTOPIA (http://www.utopianet.org/). But its heart is pragmatic: finding a way for 16 Utah communities to get the infrastructure they need.

This is a fiber-to-the-home project which began about two years ago, and in April expanded its reach to 16 communities. We’re not talking big urban centers here – we’re talking about communities like: Brigham City, Centerville, Layton, Lindon, Midvale, Murray, Orem, Perry, Payson, Tremonton and West Valley. Brigham City has population just shy of 19,000. In 2009, Payson was just over 17,000.

You get the idea – these are not urban centers and they aren’t sprawling sparsely populated ranch land. They are the kind of in-between land that an awful lot of people live in, people who aren’t on the radar screen as top profit targets for telecom.

These are all just ordinary sorts of places … but ones who have come to realize that digital infrastructure is part of what ordinary people need in the 21st world.

It really is like roads.

Federal agencies can debate the merits of transportation policy all night long, but the reality in places like Centerville UT and Centerville MA is that people need to drive to the grocery story today and when they do, they aren’t thinking about uber-policy.

They need a gallon or milk and they need the road to connect them. It is as simple as that.

Out in western MA, Wired West (http://wired-west.net/) is another a group of towns that is taking Nike’s old slogan to heart and Just Doing It. Great Barrington, Sheffield, Mount Washington West Stockbridge, Washington, Blanford, Shelburne, Shutesbury, and more have used recent Town Meeting warrants to formally join into this effort to build a municipally owned open-access fiber-to-the-home network.

In Virgina’s tobacco-land, the Mid-atlanic Broadband Cooperative (http://www.mbc-va.com/) has been up and running for several years. It is a multi-county effort that as grown to today offer more than 800 miles of fiber and a 400 gigabit-per-second backbone network.

Formed out of frustration over the future of the region, a multi-county regional group launched the project in 2003; it says that in the past three years it has helped create more than 2,200 jobs and helping to contribute $300 million of investment to the region.

Some other examples:

  • Lafayette LA, where its municipally owned utility is now offering the nation’s fastest, best-priced service (http://lusfiber.com/) creating a boon for residents and a competitive edge of businesses located there. We’re talking true 10Mbps symmetrical connection for $29/month and 50Mbps symmetrical connection for $58/month.
  • East Central Vermont Community Fiber Network (http://ecfiber.net/) is a community-owned, subscriber-funded fiber-optic network; the work in Vermont has served as a template for several other regional fiber efforts.
  • Ashland OR, pop 19,500, is typical of many muni-owned fiber networks – FiberNet, (http://www.ashlandfiber.net/)

 

While the legal structures vary, there are few common threads in these municipal, county, and regionally-led efforts.

First, they are driven by community needs. i.e. – they are responding to what the market wants.

The municipalities, counties, and other regional entities heard and saw that their residents needed to ‘get to the grocery store’ — and took on the task.

They also knew that broadband was essential in building their own business base, as essential as reliable power and smart zoning regulations.

What’s sad is that 18 states have told communities they don’t have a right to control their own vital infrastructure. Four – Texas, Arkansas, Missouri, and Nebraska – even have outright bans on letting regions control their own broadband future.

This is short sighted at best. Prediction? Economic growth and a young vibrant population will follow the flow of digital infrastructure … and that will be in the other 34 open access regions.

All of the successful projects talk about financial sustainability. No one is living in some make-believe la-la land where services come for free and everyone lives happily ever after.

Financial sustainability means understanding that it costs money to build and deliver broadband services. Ultimately it is revenue from the service supports ongoing operations. However, it important to note that there is no mention of driving shareholder value or sending revenue to a remote corporate location. The returns lie in a stronger, competitive economy.

You see, lots of us little towns know that profit is good. But profit that stays and reinvests locally is even better.

The other common thread is that every project that worked did so beause many individuals and organizations figured out how to focus on common goals instead of fighting for scraps with each other.

And in each case, some central leadership entity helped bring the organizations together. It doesn’t matter if that leadership resides in a 501c3, in a cooperative, in a municipal utility, or in a confederation of towns. What matters is that from the bottom up there is agreement to work together and plug into the same structure.

OpenCape is cool … but OpenCape isn’t alone. And that, perhaps, is the coolest thing of all.


Archived OpenCape columns? Check out $32M Federal Funds Come to the Cape (http://www.capeeyes.com/columns/2010/2010-03-02opencape.html)
or
Lions and Tigers and Broadband Oh My!(http://www.capeeyes.com/columns/2009/2009-07-15broadbandfunds.html

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