How much is a broadband network? The Feds have some help with that

BroadbandUSA recently released a tool that outlines costs of fiber and wireless networks. Here’s a description of the tool (including the graphic)…

The graphic below depicts four of the most common types of network deployments: Buried Fiber Deployment, Coaxial Cable Deployment, Aerial Fiber Deployment, and Microwave Deployment. Costs associated with these four types of networks are outlined in the tables below and are color-coded to match the graphic. Please note that network costs can have significant variance, even greater than the cost ranges shown. The costs included in this tool are not comprehensive and each network’s expenses will vary based on a number of factors, including community needs, geography and network deployment type.

There’s a lot of room for greater variance even shown above but at least it’s someplace to start and it’s helpful, if you’re not a network builder, to even see the components of what’s involved. Although what’s not involved is ongoing costs.

Now available – Model Broadband Feasibility Study Request for Proposal

Good information is required for good decision-making, especially when the consequences of those decisions are important and expensive. For community leaders working to improve local broadband services, good information is usually acquired by hiring a consultant to conduct a feasibility study.

Study elements generally include the following: a review of existing networks and services; a market study; technology options; legal structures and/or partnership agreements; operations; and financial projections. The study process should drive decision-making so that on completion, the community has a strategy with committed leadership that leads to the desired goal – better broadband services.

Selecting the right consultant is critical. They need the right mix of technical and financial expertise, plus know how to work with community clients. While private sector providers have a well-defined decision criteria and decision makers, these things are more fluid and complex in a community broadband initiative.

Over the years, Blandin Foundation has funded many broadband feasibility studies. In fact, the demand for grant funds for this purpose has never been higher. We have created a model RFP for communities to use as a base document that should be customized to meet specific community objectives. A focused study scope will yield detailed analysis critical to good decision-making.

You can find the sample RFP and a list of possible consultants on the Blandin Foundation site. 

Decision on Rochester broadband network is postponed

Earlier this month, Rochester (MN) city council was set to vote on moving forward with a detailed broadband feasibility study. Rochester 6 News reports that they have decided not to decide, yet…

For years, the city of Rochester has been debating possible city-wide broadband for the area.

Monday night, the Rochester City Council was supposed to vote on whether or not to conduct a study for the project. The study itself would cost more than $45,000.

However, the item was tabled for another meeting.

“The study that we would do would be about $45,000 to $50,000. If we went ahead with the project, it would be $65 million, plus,” Rochester City Councilmember Mark Bilderback said.

It sounds like community voices stepped up…

Small business owners, educators and other community members came forward at the beginning of the meeting to show their support for city-wide broadband.

“The entire point of sale system is internet based,” one community member said.

“I have many reasons to also support municipal broadband,” another small business owner said.

But council members were unsure…

But when the item came up in Monday’s meeting, Bilderback motioned to table it. He said there’s so much information surrounding city-wide broadband, and while he likes the idea, Bilderback wants to spend more time learning about it before casting his vote.

“I need to go out and I need to fund my own investigations, because I’m not getting any answers from the presentations that we’ve had,” Bilderback said.

Other council members, like President Randy Staver, followed by saying there are other city projects to consider when looking at the expensive costs it would take to initiate it.

Blandin Webinar Archive: Broadband Finance Strategies

Webinar April 2017 Broadband Finance Strategies
April 27, 2017 03:00 PM

Financing public sector investment in broadband projects can be complex, requiring both financial and political accountability. Learn from finance and local economic experts about how these deals are put together.

Speakers include:

  • Shannon Sweeney, David Drown Associates
  • Paul Donna, Robert W. Baird & Co.
  • Nancy Hoffman, Chisago County HRA-EDA
  • Mark Erickson, City of Winthrop

Broadband feasibility studies are a step toward grant applications, RFPs, getting networks built!

Last week, the MN Broadband Task Force heard from practitioners on the utility of feasibility studies. I’m on the Task Force and found the topic interesting and worth a deeper dive, especially given Blandin Foundation’s experience with and commitment to the feasibility study as a key step in moving a broadband project closer to reality.

Since 2007, Blandin Foundation had provided matching grants totaling $718,321 to 24 rural Minnesota communities to support the cost of a broadband feasibility study through its Robust Network Feasibility Fund. This grant program requires communities to produce a one-to-one cash match for awarded grants.

In 2013, Blandin Foundation published Lessons from Rural Minnesota Broadband Feasibility Studies: What can rural communities learn about broadband expansion, based on feasibility studies completed to date?” It looks at grants made between 2007 and 2012 to 11 communities to fund broadband feasibility studies, and identifies some best practices and recommendations for maximizing the effectiveness of such studies.

Five of these funded communities have gone on to deploy broadband networks; six have not.

The difference: access to capital.

Four of the five communities were able to build networks based on their completed studies due to ARRA (American Recovery and Reinvestment Act) funding. (Actually four networks were deployed, as two communities with feasibility studies became one ARRA project.) Having feasibility study results in hand played a key role in positioning the awarded communities to be competitive for federal funding.  The studies provided the communities with the data required in the application process and demonstrated that they were shovel-ready projects, which was a major requirement of projects seeking ARRA funding.

One community, Red Wing, successfully deployed a fiber optic network without ARRA funding, through partnership with Hiawatha Broadband Communications. HBC applied for ARRA funding, but was not awarded funds. Despite this setback, HBC moved ahead with the Red Wing project using their own source of funds.

State broadband funds were not available at this time, so that was not an option for communities.

In 2013, Blandin Foundation made three more broadband feasibility study grants:

As communities and counties increasingly feel the pain of being left behind, Blandin Foundation is experiencing increased demand for feasibility study grants.

In 2015-16, Blandin Foundation funded broadband feasibility studies in 10 communities.

The grant applications for this round of feasibility studies all emerged from an inclusive community engagement process.  Community members identified the need to conduct a study in order to move ahead on their technology goals and then shaped the study’s purpose, goals, and scope, and selected a consultant.

Broadband networks are now being built in six of the 10 communities that conducted feasibility studies in 2015-2016; four with state grant dollars, and two without.

Some conclusions I draw from this experience:  

  • Feasibility studies can be an effective tool in helping communities advance their broadband goals.
  • Feasibility studies inform both sides of prospective partnerships: public sector leadership and private sector providers.
  • Feasibility studies should be designed to drive decision-making throughout an interactive and iterative process defining public sector role, technology choices and partnership options.

How to build momentum for broadband-friendly legislation – public relations

Government Technology recently ran an article on proactive approaches to anti-muni broadband legislation. They are talking specifically about legislation in Missouri – but recognize the challenge to broadband legislation anywhere…

For years, incumbent telecom and cable companies trying to preserve their anti-competition fiefdoms have viewed state legislatures as the best hunting grounds. Given that few constituents know their legislators or the issues they tackle, incumbents need only influence two or three busloads of representatives in any statehouse.

But those who care about broadband — including local elected leaders, administrators, public utility managers, community stakeholders and others — are stepping up their advocacy game in response to recent legislative losses. Despite a big win for community broadband forces in Virginia, Tennessee appears to be headed to a Pyrrhic victory, North Carolina only offers a sliver hope and supporters were defeated in Alabama.

So what does Gov Tech suggest? PR…

There are several aspects to public relations, with media relations being a key element. In February, Virginia’s broadband stakeholders and advocates demonstrated effective media relations and why it’s important. …

“Media coverage of the municipal broadband issues has been fantastic,” Arbogast said. “I did lots of interviews after the bill came out. I also called and emailed state legislators, local officials, congressman, everybody I could think of to get their support.”

And a 12month PR plan…

PR is broadly defined as actions taken to influence a group of people with whom you do business. State legislatures influence cities’ ability to access money, resources and permissions. Subsequently, design a PR plan with the goal of influencing legislators’ hearts and minds regarding community broadband.

They call out Minnesota Broadband Coalition’s Day on the Hill as an example…

Minnesota jurisdictions have to pass a referendum in order to be allowed to build their own networks, which is a surmountable requirement. But to avoid the type of unpleasantness that Virginia endured, the Minnesota Broadband Coalition proactively hosted a “Minnesota Broadband on the Hill Day.” Over 80 community broadband planners and stakeholders met with 40 state legislators for a day of panels, presentations and tours in the statehouse. This type of direct engagement that’s done on a regular basis helps communities maintain their place at the table.

Shareable content on rural broadband from NTCA

The NTCA–The Rural Broadband Association has started to collect collateral to help communities promote rural broadband. They want to hear your story, to share your story and invite you to share their resources. Sign up and share your story and their send you a social media kit to get you started.