Time to visit broadband again!
I've been watching all the back and forth with legal debates and policysetting and general jockeying for position and the one thing thatstrikes 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 aleader, but the reality is OpenCape is part of larger trend.
I can speak only for myself, but when you live someplace off the beatenpath like we do, after a while you just throw up your hands at theyakety-yak of big metro areas and focus instead on finding solutionsthat help you in your day to day life.
Which is exactly what is happening in places as diverse asUtah, Virgina, Vermont, Louisiana, and of course, Cape Cod and theBerkshires.
The latest project I heard about this week has a sort of pretentiousname - UTOPIA (http://www.utopianet.org/
). Butits heart is pragmatic: finding a way for 16 Utah communities to getthe 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 talkingbig urban centers here - we're talking about communities like: BrighamCity, Centerville, Layton, Lindon, Midvale, Murray, Orem, Perry,Payson, Tremonton and West Valley. Brigham City has population just shyof 19,000. In 2009, Payson was just over 17,000.
You get the idea - these are not urban centers and they aren'tsprawling sparsely populated ranch land. They are the kind ofin-between land that an awful lot of people live in, people who aren'ton the radar screen as top profit targets for telecom.
These are all just ordinary sorts of places ... but ones whohave come to realize that digital infrastructure is part of whatordinary people need in the 21st world.
It really is like roads.
Federal agencies can debate the merits of transportationpolicy all night long, but the reality in places like Centerville UTand Centerville MA is that people need to drive to the grocery storytoday 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. Itis as simple as that.
Out in western MA, Wired West (http://wired-west.net/
) isanother a group of towns that is taking Nike's old slogan to heart andJust Doing It. Great Barrington, Sheffield, Mount Washington WestStockbridge, Washington, Blanford, Shelburne, Shutesbury, and more haveused recent Town Meeting warrants to formally join into this effort tobuild 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 upand running for several years. It is a multi-county effort that asgrown to today offer more than 800 miles of fiber and a 400gigabit-per-second backbone network.
Formed out of frustration over the future of the region, a multi-countyregional group launched the project in 2003; it says that in the pastthree years it has helped create more than 2,200 jobs and helping tocontribute $300 million of investment to the region.
Some other examples:
- Lafayette LA, where its municipally owned utility is nowoffering the nation's fastest, best-priced service (http://lusfiber.com/) creating aboon for residents and a competitive edge of businesses located there.We're talking true 10Mbps symmetrical connection for $29/month and50Mbps symmetrical connection for $58/month.
- East Central Vermont Community Fiber Network (http://ecfiber.net/) is acommunity-owned, subscriber-funded fiber-optic network; the work inVermont has served as a template for several other regional fiberefforts.
- Ashland OR, pop 19,500, is typical of many muni-owned fibernetworks - FiberNet, (http://www.ashlandfiber.net/)
While the legal structures vary, there are few common threads in thesemunicipal, county, and regionally-led efforts.
First, they are driven by community needs. i.e. - they areresponding to what the market wants.
The municipalities, counties, and other regional entities heard and sawthat their residents needed to 'get to the grocery store' -- and tookon the task.
They also knew that broadband was essential in buildingtheir own business base, as essential as reliable power and smartzoning regulations.
What's sad is that 18 states have told communities they don't have aright to control their own vital infrastructure. Four - Texas,Arkansas, Missouri, and Nebraska - even have outright bans on lettingregions control their own broadband future.
This is short sighted at best. Prediction? Economic growth and a youngvibrant 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. Noone is living in some make-believe la-la land where services come forfree and everyone lives happily ever after.
Financial sustainability means understanding that it costs money tobuild and deliver broadband services. Ultimately it is revenue from theservice supports ongoing operations. However, it important to note thatthere is no mention of driving shareholder value or sending revenue toa remote corporate location. The returns lie in a stronger, competitiveeconomy.
You see, lots of us little towns know that profit is good. But profitthat stays and reinvests locally is even better.
The other common thread is that every project that worked did so beausemany individuals and organizations figured out how to focus on commongoals instead of fighting for scraps with each other.
And in each case, some central leadership entity helped bring theorganizations together. It doesn't matter if that leadership residesin a 501c3, in a cooperative, in a municipal utility, or in aconfederation of towns. What matters is that from the bottom up thereis agreement to work together and plug into the same structure.
OpenCape is cool ... but OpenCape isn't alone. And that, perhaps, isthe coolest thing of all.