Working with Communities to Expand Broadband Access

Communities’ Interest in Broadband

Broadband expansion, particularly to rural and underserved areas, is a priority for nations and local communities around the world. They are funding large and small telecommunications companies and municipal service providers to build backhaul and extend last-mile capacity, with an eye toward expanding economic opportunity for their citizens and institutions, improving access to government services, and making their communities more attractive to live and work in, and visit.

Key Stakeholders

Beyond its application to household users and local governments, community institutions with a stake in expanded broadband access include a wide range of community-based organizations  – schools, colleges and universities, healthcare providers, and nonprofit human services agencies – all of whom are looking for new ways to leverage connected technologies to transform their services. Remember too that you are a key stakeholder in each community in which you provide valuable broadband service.

The key stakeholders for each community are defined by the community itself. A community’s engagement with its private sector, for example, will determine how much the broadband needs of companies are taken into consideration in its planning and funding parameters. Therefore, it is important to understand how each community has worked with its members in the past (in workforce development or previous broadband programs, for example) in order to best understand the relevant stakeholders with whom to move forward.

Broadband-expanding Projects

Service providers tend to look at broadband expansion through the lens of infrastructure, but as with household consumer access, public sector customers’ demand for more robust bandwidth is driven by the projects that they are planning that depend on connectivity as a means to achieving their organizational objectives. Sometimes these projects can leverage existing broadband infrastructure, but sometimes they also require a significant expansion of provider capacity specifically for the purpose of supporting the needs of the project.

Distance learning programs, university research infrastructure building, and regional healthcare data sharing projects are just a few examples of the initiatives that serve a specific purpose, but that also requires close coordination with service providers in order to ensure these projects work.

As we’ve discussed in past posts, broadband expansion funding is significant and widely available, but funding for targeted projects that use and can contribute to expanded capacity by the related service provider go far beyond the more narrowly defined broadband funding – and it comes from a much wider range of federal and state agencies, and even private foundation funders.

And all of these opportunities can be discovered and accelerated to the benefit of communities and service providers, by engaging and leading community-wide initiatives.

For more information on grants and other funding for broadband, check out our whitepaper, Making Your RDOF Bid Count!

Building (or Join) a Coalition

Whether it is wiser to join an existing group or start a new one will be largely determined by the environment in each community. The public sector technology professionals you already work with should be able to provide you with a sense of where things stand in their area.

It’s not uncommon for a coalition to be formed in the interest of advancing a specific community broadband initiative, after the completion of which, it may be disbanded.  Free public Wi-Fi is now available to all the residents of a low-income housing campus (for example) – the team did its work, and everyone can get back their regular jobs.

However, ad hoc groups like these can evolve into a powerful community development resource whose reach extends well beyond a single project. And as you look to participate in leading a community broadband initiative, it will be helpful to determine whether groups like this already exist.

Work with Community Leaders

Community leadership may come with a title like the mayor, executive director, or CXO, and these are certainly useful people to know. But the work of organizing and leading new initiatives is often carried out by people in the middle of an organization who have a vision for the future and the energy to pursue that vision.

Both types of leaders are needed to make things happen for a community: executives need to endorse and promote mid-level initiatives to the broader community of stakeholders, in order to attract funding and support. And the mid-level leaders need to develop the project into a workable plan that will actually work once the project is deployed.

Seek out these mid-level leaders. Not only will they be more willing than an elected official to join a coalition with your firm and others to expand broadband access in the near term, but today’s mid-level leaders and visionaries are also the executive leaders of tomorrow. You’ll be glad you know them and they know you.

Keep the Focus on Outcomes

The work you do with the communities you support will always be a focus on some objective: secure sharing of health data across hospitals, access to criminal history data by law enforcement officers in a region, broadband internet access for rural citizens. Try to keep your focus, and the focus of the coalition on these specific outcomes. Not only will this focus make the projects easier to fund (funders are generally focused on the same types of outcomes), but it also makes it easier to communicate the project to interested community groups, stakeholders, the media, and others.

The Many Benefits of Working with Communities

Communities across the country already leverage funding to expand broadband, develop comprehensive technical and operational plans to leverage connectivity, and issue RFPs and enter into contractual arrangements with service providers. But by proactively working with community leaders, service providers can leverage their mutual interests with a wide range of public and private sector customers to:

  • Expand and diversify sticky institutional leverage of broadband services
  • Open the door to subsequent conversations about stakeholder needs and future bandwidth requirements
  • Build trust among all the stakeholders involved in the provision and use of this essential service.

Collaboration like this can be a win-win that will pay dividends that far exceed the time and effort required to see them through, and it can transform and energize what had traditionally been a transactional, RFP-chasing approach to business growth.

Source: blogs.cisco.com

Working with Communities to Expand Broadband Access