The price of free for a feasibility study in Rochester?

Alcatel-Lucent has offered to do a broadband feasibility study for Rochester – for free. According to Watch Dog

The proposition? A gratis report, except for city staff time to dig up data, on whether Rochester should get into the government-owned broadband business, in which Alcatel-Lucent specializes.

“We’re going to turn this rock over with you, if you’ll allow us, over the next 60 to 90 days, and we’ll come back to you with a deliverable that is, essentially, that business case model with its alternatives, and we’re going to hand it back to you,” Brayen said.

And apparently the locals are worried that there’s no such thing as free…

“I think you would have to appreciate why I would be skeptical that a global company, who makes their business, bread and butter, selling telecommunications equipment and services, would offer to do a free study for me,” said City Council President Randy Staver. “I can pretty much predict what the outcome of that study will be.”

The Internet industry company partners with about 30 government entities on broadband services, all operating in the black, according to Brayen. The audience received assurances, however, that Alcatel-Lucent would walk away, no strings attached — unless the prosperous city, home to the Mayo Clinic, decides to proceed.

I will admit that before I read any report, I like to see who funded it and who wrote it. Authorship matters. I’ve read more than a dozen feasibility studies – in depth. Here’s the thing: authorship matters but it doesn’t negate the research, legwork and expertise. Most (probably all) of the feasibility studies I read favored a movement for better broadband. When the business case was tough to make – the feasibility studies got creative.

When the author or funder (especially if it was a provider) was involved in the process that slanted the outcomes BUT it makes sense because having a partner who is ready, willing and able makes a huge difference.  An invested partner is a good partner. But even when it seems like there’s an obvious partner it doesn’t always come to fruition.  I’ve seen “other” companies get the contract to move forward. The value is really in the details as much as the conclusions.

Yes Alcatel-Lucent has motivation to say move forward – but they work with commercial providers as well as municipalities. The value they bring in a free feasibility study is that they know the range of possible answers, they can think creatively and they will help gather the details. It’s wise to understand their motivation and perspective and remember it when you read the report, but otherwise it seems like a good deal to me. It must have to Rochester too…

Alcatel-Lucent got the go-ahead to complete the broadband business plan over the next two to three months. But the exercise still leaves open to question the worth of a “free” study. After all, council members agreed any findings would need to be vetted by another study, commissioned and paid for by taxpayers.

This entry was posted in Community Networks, MN, Vendors 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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