How To's, Strategy

New Year’s Resolutions for Startup Broadband Providers

Like everyone else, local communities have their own New Year’s resolutions…If you happen to be considering developing your own local broadband service, Utility LINE has come up with a list of things you should consider as you are evaluating your options.

1. Evaluate state laws that may ban, restrict, or discourage municipal broadband.

As a Utility LINE blog discussed this past October, “21 states impose restrictions on cities’ rights/ability to invest in municipal broadband network.” Is your city located in one of these states? If so, barriers to municipal broadband may be higher than in less restrictive states. The short of it is: Be sure you know what legal hurdles your initiative may face!

2. Evaluate cable franchise agreements for any risks or opportunities that may impact your efforts.

Does your region already have a legally binding agreement that precludes municipal or community investments in broadband? Like state laws, existing franchise agreements can present legal hurdles, and it’s better to know what these are sooner, rather than later.

3. Evaluate local right of way options and legislation that impact underground and aerial paths.

Who owns the infrastructure – such as telephone poles, ducts, telecom manholes – and can you access it? If so, at what cost? Do your budget and expected revenue stream allow you to lease access?

4. Obtain written endorsement from state, county, and local politicians at key milestones.

Even if you have no state laws or cable franchise contracts preventing municipal broadband build out, and even if you can afford infrastructure access; do you have political support from the incumbent mayor or county manager, and city council (where applicable)? Politicians can lubricate broadband build out – or gum up the works. We recommend that endorsement be reacquired with each new administration.

5. Evaluate local permitting turnaround times for fiber installation, construction, and emergency maintenance requests.

Lengthy turnaround on permits can impact initial build out costs, delivery, and service response time. Imagine managers, engineers, inspectors, and construction crews sitting on payroll for months, while waiting for permits to be approved. This can bleed valuable capital expenses dry.

6. Evaluate methods for funding the fiber build out.

Establish preferred mechanisms for funding the fiber build out. Can you crowd fund? Or should you appeal to major investors for start-up capital? In some cases, state grants or lease financing may be available, while at other times public-private partnerships (PPP) with tech companies investing in broadband, or working with local foundations, may be appropriate.

In addition to private or state capital, there are a few federal funding streams that are worth exploring, including FirstNet, NTIA, and USDA RUS. Check out the resources listed in Broadband Communities Magazine.

7. Complete a strategic plan that outlines future uses of this municipal broadband network. Think Smart Cities or Smart Rural Communities.

Future-proof the network by identifying potential customers, revenue streams, and capacity needed.  Design passive and active access points in your network that accommodate those future uses.

8. Collect GIS data that maps existing underground and aerial pathways within your city.

Gather, organize, and evaluate data including address, street centerlines and curbs, right-of-way and easements, political boundaries, parcels or lot lines, utility poles, street light poles (if wireless access points are of interest), pole-to-pole overhead strands, all available underground utility routes, manholes that support telecom infrastructure, pavement conditions, zoning, building footprints, locally acquired aerial imagery, conduit connecting manholes, existing dark fiber available, infrastructure maintenance plan (road and power), potential passive and active access points.

For an exhaustive list, see Appendix 1A in this Google Fiber document.

9. Draft a preliminary design and produce ballpark pricing estimates.

Include proposed outside and inside plant routes, major hardware required, and assess facility requirements and costs for additional electronics, power, cooling, space, etc.

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