Stirring the Pot: broadband requires leadership and technical knowledge and opportunity

Originally posted in Blandin eNews

Moving a community broadband initiative forward requires a mystical blend of community leadership and technical/financial knowledge meeting opportunity.  When I review the many successful broadband projects, I see that each project has a unique mix of these elements.  For me, community leadership is the most interesting facet.  Leadership can emerge from almost anywhere. My friend and former colleague Karl Samp used to say, “The great thing about being in a rural community leader is that you do not need a title, you just have to start doing things.”

Yet there is something essential about having elected officials strongly engaged in these broadband initiatives. Volunteers can gather and analyze information or put together an outline of a strategy or deal. Technical experts can define the best technology options.  But when it comes to actually making things happen, it usually takes a mayor, town supervisor or county commissioner to bring the legal and financial authority of the local government to the table. Convincing local officials to assume that role can be the most challenging task for the local broadband activists. For some leaders, hearing the broadband stories of woe is enough to convince them to act. Other leaders want hard facts  based on data to be convinced. Thankfully, there is a growing set of tools that can provide return on investment (ROI) data for community broadband initiatives.

At the recent Border to Border Broadband Conference, there were two examples of ROI analysis methodologies – one presented by Ann Treacy and Bernadine Joselyn and one created at Purdue University. Luckily, the former model is quite simple to calculate and easily understood. I encourage you to take a look at these session notes and complete the calculator found here.  https://wp.me/p3if7-4PR.  For those reading this with strong data skills, the Purdue model can be found here: https://wp.me/p3if7-4PL. Both models emphasize that the widespread community benefits to broadband investment far exceed the private sector business case for that investment, thus the need for public sector investment to deploy the necessary broadband investment.

For those pursuing improved broadband networks, please take a shot at using these tools with your broadband team.  I think that it will be enlightening for your group – both for the numbers created and possibly more importantly, the discussion that the analysis facilitates with local elected officials.  It would be great to hear your reports.

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