November 16, 2018 - With the launch of a group of communities in a "broadband accelerator" launched by the municipal finance portal Neighborly, the momentum behind open access broadband networks is continuing to build.
On Thursday, Neighborly announced that it had selected 35 cities, including sizable communities of Cleveland, New Orleans and Richmond, as its first class to participate in this broadband accelerator. These communities will receive instruction from industry experts and service providers, as well as being able to access "Neighborly financing at a competitive, below industry rate cost."
According to Thursday's press release from Neighborly, "more than 100 communities, through local broadband advocates and government officials (CIOs, CTOs, CFOs, Mayor’s, City Council members) applied to supercharge their local broadband ambitions; we had such an overwhelming response, we expanded the class size to accept 35 communities in this cohort."
Communities that participate in the program will be guided through the process of establishing community broadband networks.
Neighborly identifies, as its "key principles for open access community broadband":
- Communities own their broadband infrastructure
- ISPs compete to serve the community
- Access is universal and affordable
- Network revenues means no new taxes.
Neighborly's role in the broadband space
Neighborly, a fintech startup based in San Francisco and supported by Emerson Collective, 8VC and Ashton Kutcher’s Sound Ventures, has recently begun ramping up its efforts in the broadband space.
"We are the first impact broker-dealer, and we focus on future-proofing broadband, solar, and anything that has impacts for smart cities of the future," said Lindsey Brannon, head of public finance at Neighborly, speaking at an October Broadband Communities conference in Ontario, California.
"We see connectivity as a fundamental right," added Garrett Brinker, product manager of Neighborly, speaking at a Next Century City conference in Hartford on November 8.
He said that Neighborly was focusing on uniting cities that are seeking to build open access networks with the financing necessary to build such networks.
What is open access?
Open access networks are becoming more real for gigabit connectivity in the United States. One open access network is the so-called "three-tiered" model: One entity owns the fiber infrastructure, a second entity operates the gigabit network, and a third entity sells retail internet access to customers.
Why split up ownership, network operations, and internet services?
Each of these three activities are fundamentally different. They are best served by different skill sets and different business models.
For example, financing fiber infrastructure can be realized more readily when it is understood as a long-term capital or real estate investment.
And network operations are utility-like. They are best served by government entities or by private-sector providers separate from actual internet service providers.
On such open access networks, there are generally multiple service providers offering a variety of packages of broadband services for business and retail customers.
Yet this concept of a three-tiered broadband network is still, panelists said, a bit of a novelty in the United States. Unlike other places around the world, the vertically integrated giant can seem like the norm in the United States. Incumbent communications companies generally own their own fiber, wireless and other assets. They operate their respective core network in their own proprietary fashion. And they try to provide customer service -- internet connectivity, or the so-called "triple play," or services like home security -- to end users.
Recent marketplace developments have seen players like AT&T, Comcast, and Verizon Communications seeking to integrate even further. However, it will be from fiber-optic communication, that a multitude of services and application uses will be unleashed. But this flourishing can only happen if innovators fix the business model problems that limit ownership of and access to fiber utilities.
The first class of broadband accelerator communities
And here's the list of communities that have been accepted into the program:
• Fresno, CA
• Nevada City, CA
• Oakland, CA
• Palo Alto, CA
• Santa Rosa, CA
• Salinas, CA
• Lyons, CO
• Madison, CT
• Jacksonville, FL
• New Orleans, LA
• Brockton, MA
• Cambridge, MA
• Millinocket, East Millinocket & Medway, ME (on behalf of Katahdin Broadband Utility)
• Windham, ME (on behalf of Lakes Region Broadband Partnership)
• Blue Hill, Brooksville, Deer Isle, Penobscot & Sedgwick, ME (on behalf of Peninsula Utility for Broadband)
• Metuchen, NJ
• Cleveland, OH
• Portland, OR
• Harrisburg, PA
• Block Island, RI
• Sweetwater, TN
• Baird, TX
• Ashland, VA
• Manquin, VA
• Richmond, VA
• Virginia Beach, VA
• Enosburgh, VT
• Sauk County, WI
• Laramie, WY
And these are among the guest lecturers who will be addressing the class of cities participating in the accelerator:
• Blair Levin, Senior Fellow, Metropolitan Policy Program, Brookings Institute
• Deb Socia, Executive Director, Next Century Cities
• Christopher Mitchell, Director of the Community Broadband Networks Initiative, Institute for Local Self Reliance
• Matt Dunne, Founder and Executive Director, Center on Rural Innovation
• Anne Schwieger, Broadband and Digital Equity Advocate, City of Boston
(Photo of Blair Levin via www.lohud.com)