Winning strategy for ARRA networks

On Wednesday, I met up with John Schultz of U-reka Broadband to talk about the ARRA awards and his model for success. John is involved with several projcts that have been funded. So far, his projects are bringing $35 million to our area. It’s an impressvice record.

John is inovled with the following:

So I wanted to know John’s winning model and he was kind anough to share it. Here are his guidelines:

  1. Choose good projects
  2. Build partnerships with existing providers. This will allow you to hit the ground runing, which allows the customers see the difference more quickly and the project ROI is quicker.
  3. Find partners who are flexible and who aren’t tied into a particular way of dong things – flexible with partner and technology choices as well as flexible with their roles in the project.
  4. John didn’t say this, but I would mention the advantage of having soemone or an organization such as John (U-reka Broadband) who is there to facilitate the deals, manage the moving pieces and create win-win-win partnerships.

John mentioned that he enjoys working with municpalities, cooperatives and locally based independents. These are folks who have similar values. They want their towns and territories to be successful and they are generally able to take a longer view of a project than larger providers and/or start ups.

I asked about how he might think of this if he were a community. What might be different? He had some additional advice:

  • Look at the list of the tasks required to bring better broadband to your areas.And take a realistic look at what is required and what your optmial role might be.
  • Know what you can and cannot do. Know what you want and don’t want. For example – know if you want to own and manage the network or if you are intersted in forming a partnership with someone who migth take care of that side of the network.
  • When choosing a partner, look nearby. Proximity make building or expanding a network easier. So talk to your local providers. If they aren’t interested, map out the cooperatives in your region and appraoch them about coming into your area.

Prove Models and Build Demand

It might have been handy to have John’s winning secrets before the ARRA applications were due – but then hindsight is always 20/20. We talked a little bit about the “now what?” part of the equation – for John and folks like him, for the communities that got funded and the ones who didn’t as well as for federal funding.

Many of the folks who build networks are pretty much booked for the next 2-3 years. We’ll see a lot of building and digging next spring and the spring after. And the projects that were funded will be sending in reports to the RUS and NTIA. So, half of the players will be busy proving their models.

Then there’s the broadband adoption folks – like Blandin’s MIRC project – who are working to get nonusers interested, trained and involved in using broadband. Building up that demand, may help spur more broadband deployment. Again these folks will be sending in their reports, proving their models.

Folks who are on the sidelines will probably be playing a waiting game. Waiting to see if successful models and/or technologies emerge from the ARRA projects. Waiting to see of the NTIA/RUS/FCC offer more incentives to expand broadband.

John‘s final note was that funding mechanism was essential for getting networks to areas that will not be served by market-driven providers – but he was confident that more federal funding will emerge – maybe not to the same extent as it was made available by the recent ARRA funds and/or maybe not to any great extent in the next 2-3 years but that once the models have been proven and demand built, more funding will come. I’m thinking that when the time comes, I might just repost John’s advice.

This entry was posted in Building Broadband Tools, Funding, MN by Ann Treacy. Bookmark the permalink.

About Ann Treacy

Librarian who follows rural broadband in MN and good uses of new technology (blandinonbroadband.org), hosts a radio show on MN music (mostlyminnesota.com), supports people experiencing homelessness in Minnesota (elimstrongtowershelters.org) and helps with social justice issues through Women’s March MN.

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