WASHINGTON, April 8, 2010 - The elements of an organized broadband system at the state level will vary depending upon geographic and economic characteristics. Urban and more populous areas will require middle-mile infrastructure to serve larger institutions, while existing last mile coverage may be adequate. Secondary and rural markets may require less extensive institutional capacity, while last mile coverage remains unacceptable.
The Federal BTOP and BIP funding programs, the FCC’s National Broadband Plan and numerous state programs confirm that demand exists for enhanced broadband in the overall areas of government, public safety, education, health care and business. This organic process is truly evolving, and much is being learned in the process of achieving the ongoing objective of adequate broadband capacity. Part of the challenge is to ultimately establish an “Organized System” which will address the disparate factions involved in this process. If the NBP’s goal of reaching a first-generation network is to be realized, much is to be accomplished.
Statewide Institutions for Implementing Broadband Plans
Round Two of the BTOP and BIP programs has made a clear distinction between middle-mile and last-mile. Irrespective of the motivation behind this distinction, it illustrates the fact that many institutional users consistently require large amounts of bandwidth, which are often delivered via proprietary networks.
In virtually every state the largest single user is the state itself. Most have an existing Department of Internet Technology, or other agency responsible for overseeing and administering the state’s IT requirements. Issues in terms of broadband include:
- A network adequate to connect required state facilities, including government buildings, police, fire, and other essential governmental services.
- Whether the network is owned or leased, long-term agreements to purchase bandwidth must be negotiated and entered into.
- A facility adequate to accommodate required data storage, continuity of services and disaster recovery.
The challenge facing many states is to extend the state network to reach essential facilities in rural areas. Such areas are less cost effective to serve by fiber, particularly in the near term. Other technologies, including microwave and satellite may be required to provide adequate bandwidth within a reasonable timeframe.
The demand for bandwidth in education is expanding exponentially. There clearly exists a correlation between schools with adequate broadband capability and those without, in terms of academic performance. Universities, colleges, community colleges, high schools and elementary schools all have broadband requirements.
As with the states, educational institutions have network, purchasing and data storage needs. Also with respect to education, libraries have their own unique requirements. Libraries will continue to be the source of important educational and other vital information. These institutions clearly a require increased broadband capacity as well as improved Internet access facilities for end users.
Health care facilities also have extensive broadband requirements. “Telehealth” involves the use of medical information exchanged from one community to another via electronic communications to improve patients' health status.
A statewide proprietary network is required, which interconnects hospitals and other health care facilities. The bandwidth requirements are significant, particularly with the condition that all health care records be digital by 2015. Unique data center services are also required to manage such a network.
Naturally, the business community will continue to have broadband requirements. Although funded privately, the state must ensure that adequate bandwidth is accessible, and that a broadband-friendly environment exists.
Unfortunately, the last-mile or end user component has been somewhat overlooked thus far in the broadband stimulus process. Relegated to the BIP program, there is currently less federal money available to extend access in rural and underserved areas. In spite of the real potential for wireless broadband, such as WiMAX, the vast majority of last-mile funding went to telephone companies. This situation is ironic in that the original primary purpose behind the stimulus programs was to increase the percentage of homes with adequate access to broadband capacity.
As with institutional users, the state clearly has a responsibility to address unacceptable last-mile levels, particularly in rural areas. The dynamics of providing service to these areas is dependent upon there being a middle-mile component in place to supply last-mile providers.
While middle-mile fiber is being deployed by some successful Round One telephone companies, the challenge is often providing middle-mile to more remote locations. If fiber cannot supply this connection, other technologies such as microwave and satellite may be required. With over 2,000 wireless broadband providers nationwide, WISPs should provide an integral link in providing adequate last-mile connectivity.
The Parties at the Broadband Table
Achieving an organized broadband system requires the consideration of a number of parties. Among these are State government, state-created entities, non-profit advocacy groups, trade associations, institutions, bandwidth suppliers and contractors. Existing initiatives and alliances have been created, which should comprise the foundation for an organized system. Notwithstanding, disparate agendas often exist, which may impede this overall process.
The state is at the forefront, with its demand, oversight and funding resources. States have differing structures in place, with responsibilities and control often spread over various agencies. Direction must ultimately come from governors to ensure that an organized system is in place internally. The state will have existing contracts with bandwidth providers and contractors as required. Naturally, the these parties will want to protect such arrangements.
Most states have created and funded one or more entities to foster broadband capacity. Some of these groups are virtually ineffectual, yet others literally oversee all broadband activity in the state, while reporting to the Governor. Their responsibilities may include preparation of state RFPs as well as applications for state and Federal funding. Such entities are usually non-profit, and ostensibly independent in nature.
The aforementioned institutions will also have existing vendors, which want to be protected. An institution’s overall objective should be to meet its individual requirements, while participating in an overall organized broadband system that is advantageous to the institution, the system and the state.
Broadband Challenges Ahead
It is becoming clear that enhanced broadband capacity will reap numerous economic and educational advantages at the state level. Naturally, a major hurdle involves adequate funding. Federal broadband stimulus money allocated to date will stimulate the overall process, however, additional financial resources will be required.
The national broadband plan has initially requested $25 billion in new funding. While procedures for requesting this money have yet to be established, it is important for states to prepare for this process. In order to obtain funding at the state level it is essential that lawmakers become more aware of the benefits of enhanced broadband. States that have existing funding programs will no doubt stand a greater chance of being awarded funding under the plan.
Leadership, organization and cooperation are the keywords in establishing an organized statewide broadband system. A focused structure with clear objectives, lines of responsibility and accountability will be required. Regular communication among the agencies and other parties involved is paramount.
While successful vendors should be rewarded, others should be included to promote competition within the state. States that aggressively pursue enhanced broadband capabilities at this juncture will achieve near-term objectives, while laying the foundation for important future technological developments.
Jeff Eden has 23 years of experience in the telecommunications industry, and is available for consultation with regard to the broadband stimulus process at: firstname.lastname@example.org