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Drew Clark: The Year of Community and Municipal Gigabit Broadband

December 18, 2014 – While net neutrality captured Washington policy headlines, the most significant communications development in 2014 was the emergence of new and more viable approaches to building community and municipal Gigabit Networks.

A confluence of factors in the worlds of broadband, energy, transportation, manufacturing and civic engagement have underscored the need for next-generation internet networks. Evidence of this gathering momentum behind global Gigabit Cities include the high-profile emergence of public-private financing models and a growing network of high-bandwidth computing applications.

This year’s fight over net neutrality is not unrelated to the push for Gigabit Networks. The Federal Communications Commission’s Open Internet proceeding is a battle over scarcity: The prioritization of traffic on lower-capacity networks. From the D.C. Circuit Court’s decision striking down FCC rules in January to President Obama’s decision to directly intervene in the new FCC proceeding, it’s been an all-consuming public battle.

But viewed from the vantage point of the future, the far more significant development will be the emergence of opportunities outside of Washington for high-capacity broadband networks. It’s a world in which cities and municipalities are playing the leadership role.




December 18, 2014 – While net neutrality captured Washington policy headlines, the most significant communications development in 2014 was the emergence of new and more viable approaches to building community and municipal Gigabit Networks.

A confluence of factors in the worlds of broadband, energy, transportation, manufacturing and civic engagement have underscored the need for next-generation internet networks. Evidence of this gathering momentum behind global Gigabit Cities include the high-profile emergence of public-private financing models and a growing network of high-bandwidth computing applications.

This year’s fight over net neutrality is not unrelated to the push for Gigabit Networks. The Federal Communications Commission’s Open Internet proceeding is a battle over scarcity: The prioritization of traffic on lower-capacity networks. From the D.C. Circuit Court’s decision striking down FCC rules in January to President Obama’s decision to directly intervene in the new FCC proceeding, it’s been an all-consuming public battle.

But viewed from the vantage point of the future, the far more significant development will be the emergence of opportunities outside of Washington for high-capacity broadband networks. It’s a world in which cities and municipalities are playing the leadership role.

Smart Cities Equals Gigabit Global Cities

Take, as a recent example, this New York Times story from last week: “Copenhagen Lighting the Way to Greener, More Efficient Cities.”

Not once did this article mention the words “broadband” or even “internet.” And yet the piece was all about the “software and services for critical infrastructure to utilities and cities and [how technology companies are] helping design and operate the traffic and street lighting project here in Copenhagen.”

On a main artery into the city, truck drivers can see on smartphones when the next light will change. And in a nearby suburb, new LED streetlights brighten only as vehicles approach, dimming once they pass.

Aimed at saving money, cutting the use of fossil fuels and easing mobility, the installations are part of a growing wireless network of streetlamps and sensors that officials hope will help this city of roughly 1.2 million meet its ambitious goal of becoming the world’s first carbon-neutral capital by 2025.

Eventually, the network will serve other functions, like alerting the sanitation department to empty the trash cans and informing bikers of the quietest or fastest route to their destinations. It’s all made possible through an array of sensors embedded in the light fixtures that collect and feed data into software.

The Copenhagen smart city one example of how cities have recognized that information communications technology is a necessary part of the “plumbing” of modern life. The common-sense capabilities being deployed in Copenhagen demonstrate how cities see that they must engage in the innards of fiber-optic wires and wireless transceivers if they want to remain good steward of their public rights-of-way.

Indeed, the thinking behind the concept of a “smart city” has grown well businesses like Cisco, IBM or Siemens. There is now a percolating effort to probe the cost-saving, public safety and competitive advantages for cities:

  • The Brookings Institution’s “Global Cities Initiative,” a $10 million, five-year project launched in March 2012 with JPMorgan Chase, is aimed at strengthening regional economies and their role in the global marketplace.
  • The Atlantic Magazine’s (rebranded in May from its original title of The Atlantic Cities), is a new an editorial hub squarely focused on urban solutions to the issues and ideas facing the world’s metro areas and neighborhoods.
  • Susan Crawford’s and Stephen Goldsmith’s September book, “The Responsive City: Engaging Communities Through Data-Smart Governance.” They write: “A confluence of technology advancements now promises broad and constructive change in local government, altering everything from the way workers perform basic functions to the way citizens engage with government.”
  • The Global Cities Team Challenge, an effort championed by US Ignite in partnership with the National Institute of Standards and Technology, plus the Departments of Transportation, Energy, Health and Human Services and the National Science Foundation. After its September kickoff, the challenge has been called “Shark Tank meets smart cities” — its an effort to pair up the high-bandwidth applications cultivated by US Ignite with funding from NIST to achieve civic ends. About $10 million in funding will be available for 6-10 projects, and applications are due January 21, 2015.

New Models for Municipal Broadband

The aborning effort to stimulate Gigabit Global cities isn’t just about faster internet. Indeed, that’s precisely the point. High-bandwidth broadband is not a good to be sought on its own. It is fundamental infrastructure upon which next-generation city managers — and next-generation business and social entrepreneurs — are coming to rely.

The most direct crystallization of our municipal broadband moment is the new non-profit coalition dubbed Next Century Cities. Launched less than two months ago in Santa Monica, it now boasts membership from 50 cities, representing 25 states. From Los Angeles to communities along the Pacific Northwest, from Lafayette in Cajun country to Chattanooga, and from patrician Boston to a city that got its start as a cow town, Kansas City, each of these 50 cities have different motivations and approaches to Gigabit Networks. But they agree on these six core principles:

  1. High-speed internet is necessary infrastructure.
  2. The internet is non-partisan.
  3. Communities must enjoy self-determination in selecting public, nonprofit, corporate or public-private solutions.
  4. High-speed internet is a community-wide endeavor.
  5. Meaningful competition drives progress.
  6. Cities can learn from the experiences of others as they build Gigabit Networks.

I was present at the Santa Monica launch of Next Century Cities. I’m excited that, increasingly, city managers aren’t afraid to take responsibility for what is traveling over their rights-of-way. I also recently listened to the three-and-a-half hour webcast of its November 18 field hearing, “Envisioning a Gigabit Future,” in Chattanooga. (It was time well spent!)

What’s important about Next Century Cities is that it represents a “big tent” approach to community broadband. For cities that want to bring Gigabit Networks to their communities, there are effectively four major routes, all of which are represented within the coalition:

  • The corporate model. Google Fiber’s launch in Kansas City has shaken up the tight telecom word of AT&T, Comcast and Verizon Communications. When a city has confidence in a private provider’s promises in accessing rights-of-way, the corporate model can be hassle-free.
  • Non-profits and cooperatives. In many cases, co-ops and non-profits have been among the first to deploy fiber. Cleveland’s OneCommunity is terrific example of a non-profit community resource spurring on next-generation networks for its anchor institution and business tenants in Northeast Ohio.
  • Public-private partnerships. Although less well-known in the telecom space, public-private partnerships are the default model, world-over, for the construction of highways, tollways, ports and airports. This year has seen great innovation in using public-private partnership to build Gigabit Networks.
  • Municipal retail broadband. According to Broadband Communities magazine, more than 143 cities in the U.S. have some form of fiber-optic networks, many of which retail broadband services to city residents.

With the exception of using a corporate providers like Google or AT&T, each of the other three models leave room for open-access opportunities.

As I wrote in another context:

A public-private partnership is a way of leveraging government resources without incurring the expense of going to the capital markets and incurring more debt. Public-private partnerships also give governments a means of ensuring “asset performance,” since payments to the private entity are based on fulfillment and performance. Such normal burdens as labor issues, debt and managing costs fall to the private partner.

Under the public-private partnership model, municipalities have oversight responsibility, but no direct day-to-day role in the build-out and operations of the network. A public-private partner becomes the network operator and wholesaler, overseen by a public entity composed of participating municipalities, to ensure that the contractually agreed performance standards are achieved. The network remains an open access network, with the public-private partner’s role being maximization of competition between providers on the network. The cities retain ownership of the network assets, and the public-private partner takes operational responsibility for the network over a 30-year period, effectively leasing the network from the cities.

Under the public-private partnership/”open access” model, the network operator becomes the provider of the “fiber highway” that an existing or new entrant can use to deliver data, voice, video and other services to customers. This highway is open to any provider that wishes to use it, including the incumbents.

The emergence of new opportunities for entrepreneurs’ open access to Gigabit Networks is one of the most promising developments of the focus on fiber-enhanced Smart Cities.

Applications and Networking (the Human Variety)

An equally important point about municipal Gigabit broadband is the human networking that takes place in the creation of a Gigabit community. Beyond the infrastructure, how are consumers making use of much-expanded broadband capabilities?

This is the essence of Next Century Cities’ point number six: Collaboration benefits all. We have seen extensive public dialogues in Kansas City (because of Google Fiber), in Chattanooga (owing to EPB, the public electric utility turned broadband provider) in Danville, Virginia (through nDanville, the open-access fiber network), and elsewhere. These kinds of public broadband discussions are different from what we used to experience in the provider-centric broadband model of a decade ago.

On a personal level, I’ve seen the benefits of “Better Broadband, Better Lives” first-hand in rural and urban Illinois, where I led the Partnership for a Connected Illinois from 2010 to 2013; and since then in Utah, where I’ve continued to be involved in ensuring the fastest possible internet services for everyone.

In addition to our public mapping activities, Broadband Illinois actively promoted the opportunities that high-speed internet offers for jobs, education, energy efficiency, healthcare, public safety, agriculture and government. As the State Broadband Initiative entity for the land of Lincoln, we collected and published telecom maps and information, collaborated with internet providers and economic development officials for deployment, and educated individuals and organizations on how to effectively use broadband.

Among those educational effort including launching the Illinois Broadband Innovation Fund, which awarded 14 grants to entities using broadband in unique and innovative ways, and working with the Federal Communications Commission on one of the agency’s first broadband lifeline grants to rural Western and Southern Illinois. We also worked closely with Gov. Pat Quinn on his Gigabit Challenge Initiative — one of the first in the nation — and which was announced on February 1, 2012.

When Broadband Illinois held its first conference in Carbondale, in Southern Illinois, in June 2011, the president of Southern Illinois University declared the city to be a “broadband desert.” Yet last week Carbondale officially became a Gigabit city (and recently a member of Next Century Cities), with the launch of a Gigabit Network by Frontier Communication.

I speak of these sorts of educational and entrepreneurial gains in Illinois because of my knowledge and work in the state. These sorts of stories have been replicated throughout the nation over the past five years through the efforts of the State Broadband Initiative program. Yet with the national program coming to end in March of 2015, the question becomes: Who will help convene the public broadband dialogue both on infrastructure and on applications?

US Ignite and Next Century Cities are two important groups stepping in to fill the breach. There will certainly be others, too: Such as the Rural Telecommunications Congress, that works to ensure rural areas aren’t left out of benefits available to “next century cities.”

But the direction toward Gigabit Networks – and the leadership role being played by states and by municipalities – is truly positive. In 2014, for the first time, Gigabit Networks have become an undeniable force that has reached a tipping point.

Drew Clark is the Chairman of the Broadband Breakfast Club, the premier Washington forum advancing the conversation around broadband technology and internet policy. He tracks the development of Gigabit Networks, broadband usage, the universal service fund and wireless policy @BroadbandCensus. You can find him on LinkedIN and Twitter. The articles and posts on  and affiliated social media are not legal advice or legal services, do not constitute the creation of an attorney-client privilege, and represent the views of their respective authors. Clark brings experts and practitioners together to advance the benefits provided by broadband: job creation, telemedicine, online learning, public safety, energy, transportation and eGovernment. 

Breakfast Media LLC CEO Drew Clark has led the Broadband Breakfast community since 2008. An early proponent of better broadband, better lives, he initially founded the Broadband Census crowdsourcing campaign for broadband data. As Editor and Publisher, Clark presides over the leading media company advocating for higher-capacity internet everywhere through topical, timely and intelligent coverage. Clark also served as head of the Partnership for a Connected Illinois, a state broadband initiative.

Broadband's Impact

Josephine Bernson: The Customer Experience is About More Than Fiber

‘Listen to the customer’ is a fundamental pillar in gaining a satisfied customer.



The author of this Expert Opinion is Josephine Bernson, Chief Revenue Officer at Great Plains Communications.

Customer experience and the digital customer experience are what makes businesses today stand apart from competitors. In our connected world, it means delivering products and services via high-speed internet, provided by a network that’s reliable and scalable according to rising bandwidth demand.

Yet, we must keep in mind the other component of a first-rate customer experience: customer service excellence.

Customer service excellence, from the beginning

How does a fiber provider successfully work with the customers and the community from the very beginning? And, continue to provide exceptional customer service each day thereafter?

It begins with listening.Listen to the customer” is a fundamental pillar in gaining a satisfied customer, whether it’s meeting with business executives, community leaders or residents. What are they hoping to achieve with their network, short-term and long-term? Any concerns that should be addressed?

Respond with solutions that meet their needs.  Personalization is better than a one-size-fits-all approach. Each customer has different needs and unique bandwidth specifications that should be taken into consideration. For example, the ability to adjust availability to accommodate peak work hours for a financial institution or local government complex or the flexibility needed for a local business that serves an online global market.

Get to know your customers. Focus on getting to know your customers through participating in local events and spending time in the community. Teams that live and work in same community they serve care about providing their neighbors with high-quality products and superior service. Valuable feedback comes from customers who directly interact with local employees immersed in the community.

Timely and convenient customer service options. If there’s a problem, how can customers contact you for a resolution? Does the customer service center or 24/7 operations center always have agents available? Are there easily accessible online resources equipped to handle common questions? Automation is a big trend in CX. While we enjoy our personal relationships with our customers, we also leverage technology for self-service tools. It’s important to enable customers to do business in whichever manner works best for them.

Happy employees for a happy customer experience

Happy employees have long been credited with increased productivity and better service for customers. Great Plains Communications’ culture has always been to attract, train and retain workers from the areas it serves.

Customer service representative Marisa Benham has been with Great Plains Communications for 15 years. “I’ve always been a people person so I really love talking to people! I love helping them figure out what services they want and helping them if they have an issue with their account.”

As for the GPC team itself, she says, “The biggest thing I love about our team is that even though we’re a large company, I feel like we are still trying to get that small company family feel.  I really love that about Great Plains as well.”

For any business to survive for a long period it must continually evolve. Great Plains Communications is a 113-year-old company serving nearly 200 Midwestern communities.  As a leading digital telecommunications leader, our core focus remains the same: customer service excellence. We believe in our high-performing network and high-performing people.

Customer loyalty depends on the customer experience, but it must be earned. It’s more than state-of-the-art technologies. It’s the people behind the innovation. It’s the teams that deliver and support the technology that make all the difference.

Josephine Bernson is the chief revenue officer at Great Plains Communications. This piece is exclusive to BroadbandBreakfast.

Broadband Breakfast accepts commentary from informed observers of the broadband scene. Please send pieces to The views reflected in Expert Opinion pieces do not necessarily reflect the views of Broadband Breakfast and Breakfast Media LLC.

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Digital Inclusion

Sean Gonsalves: National Digital Inclusion Alliance Hosts Largest Net Inclusion Gathering

NDIA Executive Director Angela Siefer zeroed in on the need for good data.



Selfie of NDIA Executive Director Angela Seifer and Net Inclusions audience from Twitter

With nearly 1,000 in attendance at the Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center in downtown San Antonio for the National Digital Inclusion Alliance (NDIA) marquee gathering, those on the front lines of bridging the digital divide across the nation came to the three-day conference (Feb 28  to March 2) to network, share lessons, best-practices, and learn from experts as the largest ever federal investment in expanding broadband access is heading to state broadband offices this summer.

Mayor addresses attendees, acknowledges open secret of segregation

San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg welcomed attendees, noting how his city was a fitting venue for the event.

“It’s no secret San Antonio is one of the most socio-economically segregated cities in the United States,” he said. “And that’s why we have zeroed-in on equity – in our budget, in who gets invited to the table.”

DeAnne Cuellar with Mayor Ron Nirenberg

Nirenberg congratulated NDIA for its work and the attendance record set by this year’s gathering. He also singled out our own outreach coordinator and San Antonio resident DeAnne Cuellar, not only lauding her work with ILSR’s Community Broadband Networks team but for her role in bringing city officials together with Older Adults Technology Services as the city commits to connecting 100,000 older adults in the city.

(ILSR’s Community Broadband Networks team, which has long worked with NDIA participated conducted a workshop, participated in several panels discussions, and hosted a special Connect This! live stream at a social mixer at The Friendly Spot Icehouse.)

“Broadband is a basic human right and is a public utility. That’s why digital inclusion is a pillar of our recovery program,” Nirenberg said, noting how that is reflected in line items in the city’s budget.

Mayor Nirenberg also spoke candidly about injustices that had been baked-in to city and state policies in the past and, whether intentional or not, excluded vulnerable communities across the city, putting them at a socio-economic disadvantage. He said that closing the digital divide was central to correcting those injustices.

He concluded his welcoming remarks encouraging attendees to “use technology to live, learn, work and thrive.”

Texas broadband office announces new network funding opportunity

Also on hand for the conference was Greg Conte, Director of the Texas Broadband Development Office. Conte announced a Notice of Funding Opportunity for $120 million in grants for the construction of new high-speed Internet infrastructure across the Lone Star State.

As projects are funded to build new infrastructure, the state can’t assume people will automatically subscribe for Internet service, as efforts to tackle affordability and adoption are equally important undertakings.

“We want to make sure communities can get online and use it,” he said. “We ask all Texans to help in this process.”

He also briefly touched on something numerous other state broadband offices are in the process of doing: beefing up staff as each state is set to receive an historic amount of federal funds from the bipartisan infrastructure bill’s BEAD program.

Conte was a guest on our Community Broadband Bits podcast last summer in which he discussed the challenges of staffing up his office and addressing the dearth of data about precisely where broadband is and isn’t available across the state.

Engaging other sectors in the work of advocating for more ACP funding

Batting clean-up was NDIA Executive Director Angela Siefer, who first zeroed in on the need for good data that shows and measures how local digital equity programs are working, and how those efforts can be improved.

Angela Siefer speaking at Net Inclusion

And while quality robust data is vital, she said, it is also worth thinking about who benefits from expanded broadband access (beyond individual end-users) and how data and stories about digital inclusion initiatives can be used to engage industries and sectors of society who may not see bridging the digital divide as an urgent concern.

That includes the necessity of getting more than just Internet service providers at the table. Buy-in from healthcare providers, educational leaders, captains of retail and commerce, as well as transportation planners and housing officials should be engaged in helping to make broadband available especially for residents who struggle with affordability.

Specifically as it relates to commerce, Siefer noted, “the savings that can come from conducting certain business online can be invested into access.”

Siefer also emphasized the value of digital equity advocates sharing the stories they encounter of the lives impacted by their work with those who may not be tuned into the connectivity crisis that still plagues even such a technologically-sophisticated nation as the U.S.

Lastly, Siefer reminded the attendees that the federal funding that supports the Affordable Connectivity Program will run in the next year or so without additional appropriation from Congress.

“We need more money for the ACP,” she said, adding that it was important for state and local leaders to be pushing their Congressional representatives to replenish the ACP’s coffers.

“The long term plan is that the Universal Service Fund needs to be fixed but that is going to take time. The ACP will run out of funds before the USF is fixed,” she said.

Before the general assembly dispersed to a variety of focused workshops and breakout groups, Siefer ended with a note of encouragement: “Remember you guys are the heroes. You do the work on the ground. But NDIA has your back.”

Watch the plenary sessions below. Also, stay tuned for our new podcast series Building for Digital Equity, which will debut soon and feature interviews with dozens of frontline digital inclusion practitioners discussing the work they are doing in their local communities.

This article originally appeared on the Institute for Local Self Reliance’s Community Broadband Networks project on March 2, 2023, and is reprinted with permission.

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Digital Inclusion

NTIA Seeks Comment on How to Spend $2.5 Billion in Digital Equity Act

National Telecommunications and Information Administration is seeking comment on how to structure the programs.



Photo of Veneeth Iyengar of ConnectLA

WASHINGTON, March 1, 2023 – The National Telecommunications and Information Administration announced Wednesday that it is seeking comment on how to structure the $2.5 billion that the Digital Equity Act provides to promote digital equity and inclusion. 

As part of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, the Digital Equity Act consists of two sub-programs, the State Digital Equity Capacity grant and the Digital Equity Competitive grant. Comments will guide how the NTIA will design, regulate, and evaluate criteria for both programs. 

“We need to hear directly from those who are most impacted by the systemic barriers that prevent some from fully utilizing the Internet,” Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo said Wednesday at the National Digital Inclusion Alliance’s Net Inclusion event in San Antonio. 

See Commerce Secretary Raimondo’s remarks at Net Inclusion:

The request for comment is part of NTIA’s strategy to hear diverse perspectives in implementing its goal to ensure every American has the skills and capacity needed to reap the benefits of the digital economy, stated a press release. 

The $1.44 billion State Digital Equity Capacity grant will fund implementation of state digital equity plans which will strategically plan how to overcome barriers faced by communities seeking to achieve digital equity.  

Simply making investments in broadband builds is not enough, said Veneeth Iyengar, executive director of ConnectLA, speaking at a Brookings Insitution event in December. Bringing digital equity means “driving adoption, digital skills, and doing the kinds of things that we need to do to tackle the digital divide.” 

The $1.25 billion Digital Equity Competitive grant program will fund anchor institutions, such as schools, libraries, and nonprofits, in offering digital inclusion activities that promote internet adoption. 

“Community-anchor institutions have been and are the connective tissue that make delivering high-speed internet access possible,” said Alan Davidson, head of the NTIA at AnchorNets 2022 conference. 

This announcement follows dissent on the definition of digital discrimination. Commenters to the Federal Communications Commission disagree on whether the intent of a provider should be considered when determining if the provider participated in digital discrimination. There has been no response from the FCC. 

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