Connect with us


Private Investors Can Jumpstart Community Networks, Say Broadband Breakfast Panelists

‘We believe that connectivity can be a new and distinct category in impact investing.’



WASHINGTON, September 29, 2022 – A new report from digital investment house Connectivity Capital is urging private investment firms to diversify their portfolios and plow more money into locally-owned and operated broadband networks worldwide.

Examining case studies from 10 communities worldwide, the September report suggests these firms, which often invest in healthcare and environment projects, put those social and environmental progress “impact investment funds” toward community connectivity providers. Connectivity Capital is such an investor and has funded projects in Africa, Asia, and Latin America.

At a Broadband Breakfast Live Online event Wednesday, Connectivity Capital Managing Partner Ben Matranga identified two common features of successful community providers: Innovation and cost-cutting. “Every single operator that we catalogued and certainty every operator that we invest in is doing something vastly different,” he said. “As you talk to these operators, they all have a culture of frugality,” he said.

Steve Song, telecommunications consultant and policy advisor at Mozilla, argued that community networks are “more than just about connectivity.” He said that, “In almost every case you see other kinds of social connections being built as a result of these initiatives.”

Similar stories from around the world

“Around the world we see a remarkably similar story, Community Connectivity Providers often delay or forgo expansion plans because of the lack of appropriate capital,” Matranga said in a prior interview with Broadband Breakfast. “What that means is that the over 3 billion unconnected people globally are locked out and left behind from the transformational power of the internet.”

Matranga added that he hopes the report will “demystify” the phenomenon of community-driven broadband networks and illustrate the best practices of successful CCPs – i.e., cooperatives, municipal networks, small operators, etc. He said hopes to encourage more impact investors to fund broadband projects.

“We believe that connectivity can be a new and distinct category in impact investing,” Matranga said.

The report comes at a time when multiple U.S. states have put into place roadblocks to municipal broadband builds, though some have rolled-back some of those restrictions. The issue with those types of projects, they say, is that they will prevent private competition.

The National Telecommunications and Information Administration, the Commerce agency tasked with distributing $42.5 billion to the states for broadband builds, has said that municipal builds must be considered when utilizing the federal money.

The reports recommends that policymakers accommodate the needs of various types of CCPs and design a simple, clear regulatory environment in which all can operate. The report also suggests state loans, subsidies, and technical-assistance initiatives.

As federal money hangs over the states, more digital investment firms are putting money toward broadband builds. For example, a Dutch pension fund manager, APG Group NV, last year bought a 16.7 percent stake in SiFi Networks, a network builder that specializes in open-access fiber-to-the-home. SiFi has built its trademark “FiberCity” projects nationwide and on Thursday announced the beginning of constructing on a citywide network in Kenosha, Wisconsin.

Editor’s note: This story and headline, published on the morning of Wednesday, September 28, as “Private Investors Can Jumpstart Community Networks, Says New Report,” have been updated to reflect comments made by speakers during the Broadband Breakfast Live Online event at 12 Noon ET on Wednesday.

Our Broadband Breakfast Live Online events take place on Wednesday at 12 Noon ET. Watch the event on Broadband Breakfast, or REGISTER HERE to join the conversation.

Wednesday, September 28, 2022, 12 Noon ET – Financing Mechanisms for Community Broadband

In the world of digital infrastructure financing, it often seems like there’s a “Private Sector is from Mars” and “Non-profits are from Venus” attitude. The conversations have been segmented and distinct. But a new approach suggests change is underway. A report by Connectivity Capital, in association with the Association for Progressive Communication, Internet Society, and Connect Humanity, provides a new paradigm: Community Connectivity Providers. What are they and why are they important? What are the various operational models and examples? What financial mechanisms have been used and how are investors allocating capital to expand broadband access? Join us for a Broadband Breakfast Live Online discussion exploring this new convergence of financing and broadband.


  • Ben Matranga, Managing Partner, Connectivity Capital
  • Steve Song, Telecommunications Consultant & Policy Advisor, Mozilla
  • Jim Forster, General Partner, Connectivity Capital
  • Drew Clark (moderator), Editor and Publisher, Broadband Breakfast

Panelist resources:

Ben Matranga is the Managing Partner at Connectivity Capital, the world’s first impact investment firm focused exclusively on expanding broadband access in emerging markets. Connectivity Capital manages over a dozen investments in digital infrastructure including ISPs operating in 16 countries across Sub-Saharan Africa and Southeast Asia. Ben has over fifteen years of experience leading private equity and venture capital investments in emerging markets. Ben previously was an Investment Officer with the Soros Economic Development Fund, a $350 million impact investment fund founded by George Soros, where he led a broad range of transactions co-investing with sovereign governments, Development Finance Institutions, and institutional investment funds.

Steve Song is a Policy Advisor with the Mozilla Corporation; a consultant on access regulation and policy to the Association for Progressive Communications; and a research partner with the Network Startup Resource Center. His blog, manypossibilities dot net, is a popular destination for anyone working on African telecommunications and internet issues. Since 2009, Steve has been actively maintaining public maps of undersea and terrestrial fibre optic infrastructure in Africa. He is also the founder of Village Telco, a social enterprise that manufactured low-cost WiFi mesh VoIP technologies to deliver affordable voice and Internet service in under-serviced areas. Previously, Steve worked at the International Development Research Centre (IDRC) where he led the organization’s ICTs for Development program in Africa, funding research into the transformational potential of ICTs.

In addition to serving as General Partner at Connectivity Capital, Jim Forster serves as the Managing Director of International Network Investments. He has over 35 years of hands-on leadership and technical expertise in networking equipment and Internet infrastructure. He spent over 20 years at Cisco Systems, starting in 1988 as the very first software development Manager, and became Distinguished Engineer leading various initiatives across IOS Software Development, System Architecture, and Business Development. He is a contributing author to Wireless Networking in the Developing World, the pioneering guide to building low-cost wireless network infrastructure in the developing world.

Drew Clark (moderator) is CEO of Breakfast Media LLC, the Editor and Publisher of and a nationally-respected telecommunications attorney. Under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, he served as head of the State Broadband Initiative in Illinois. Now, in light of the 2021 Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, attorney Clark helps fiber-based and wireless clients secure funding, identify markets, broker infrastructure and operate in the public right of way.

WATCH HERE, or on YouTubeTwitter and Facebook.

As with all Broadband Breakfast Live Online events, the FREE webcasts will take place at 12 Noon ET on Wednesday.

SUBSCRIBE to the Broadband Breakfast YouTube channel. That way, you will be notified when events go live. Watch on YouTubeTwitter and Facebook

See a complete list of upcoming and past Broadband Breakfast Live Online events.

Continue Reading
Click to comment

Leave a Reply


BEAD Could Spur Private Investment in Network Expansion: Experts

BEAD efforts to stimulate private investment may hinge upon the availability of the Affordable Connectivity Program.



Connect Humanity's Brian Vo at the BEAD Implementation Summit

WASHINGTON, September 26, 2023 – Federal and state broadband grants can serve as catalysts for other sources of funding, experts said at the Broadband Breakfast BEAD Implementation Summit on Friday.

The $42.5 billion Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment program is providing an unprecedented amount in federal funds for expanding broadband infrastructure, but some states have estimated their allocations will fall short of the amount needed to get high-speed internet to all of their residents. 

For Steve Coran, an attorney at Lerman Senter and counsel for WISPA, the trade group for fixed wireless internet providers, previous funding programs – the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund, known as RDOF, and the Connect America Fund, or CAF – are a source of hope. The certainty of federal funds, he said, has helped many of his clients secure private investments to serve rural areas.

Using that certainty “to generate additional capital investment is, I think, an underappreciated aspect of the RDOF and CAF programs,” he said.

Willie Heflin, managing director of investment firm Kinetic Ventures, said his experience investing in smaller internet service providers confirmed this. He pointed to a provider who received $187 million over 10 years from RDOF and was able to raise an additional $240 million from equity investors, including Kinetic Ventures.

“They were able to really build a company and provide services for people who weren’t getting it before,” he said.

Federally subsidized projects can also spur network expansion by making it cheaper and easier for communities to connect to nearby infrastructure, filling some of the holes left by funding programs, said Brian Vo, chief investment officer at Connect Humanity.

The extent to which BEAD projects will be able to stimulate private investment will hinge on the availability of affordability funds like the Affordable Connectivity Program, according to Blair Levin, an analyst at New Street Research and former executive director of the Federal Communications Commission’s National Broadband Plan.

“The single biggest delta for the economic models that will drive deployment in rural areas is whether the ACP is funded,” he said. “If it is, that makes the economics a lot easier. And if it’s not, it makes them a lot harder.”

The $14 billion program, established with the 2021 Infrastructure, Investment and Jobs Act, provides monthly internet subsidies of $30 for low-income households and $75 for residents of Tribal lands. It is set to dry up as early as April 2024, with no clear path to refunding.

If you missed the BEAD Implementation Summit, sign up for Broadband Breakfast’s BEAD Starter Pack for $35/month (cancel anytime). You’ll get access to all the videos and each of the three Breakfast Club reports prepared for the BEAD Implementation Summit:

Already a Broadband Breakfast Club member? Watch the videos!

Continue Reading


State Broadband Officers Outline BEAD Implementation Efforts

Broadband heads from 5 states listed community outreach, mapping, and program deadlines as top priorities for BEAD.



State broadband officers from Arkansas, New Jersey, Maine and North Carolina at the BEAD Implementation Summit

WASHINGTON, September 25, 2023 – State broadband leaders addressed on Friday their key areas of focus as they look to allocate billions in Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment grants.

The conversation took place at the Broadband Breakfast BEAD Implementation Summit, along with panels of other federal grant program officials, service providers, and investors. The $42.5 billion program is getting under way, with states releasing their initial proposals for implementing it and hearing public comments. Those proposals are due to the National Telecommunications and Information Administration by December 27.

Community outreach

Broadband heads cited engaging with communities – especially around challenges to broadband map data and fostering internet adoption – as being essential to the success of the program.

In New Jersey, broadband office leader Valarry Bullard and her team organized a listening tour. They go to churches and community centers to explain how high-capacity internet can play a role in people’s lives and local programs, without, she emphasized, jargon or acronyms.

“You kind of meet people where they’re at, you know?” she said.

Arkansas broadband director Glen Howie said his team went to all 75 counties in the state to explain how mapping challenges will work and work with counties to set up local broadband committees.

“You go into a county and you tell folks they have an opportunity to challenge their internet availability, they get fired up,” he said.

Mapping and data

As part of their proposals to the NTIA, states are required to outline a process for accepting challenges to the Federal Communications Commission’s map of broadband coverage. That map, now on its third iteration, is based on coverage reported by internet service providers, which is widely considered to be overstated.

Those map challenges will be crucial, both for BEAD and other federal broadband programs, the panel said. 

“It’s the foundation of all of our programs. We spend a huge amount of time on mapping,” said Angie Bailey, North Carolina’s head broadband officer. “We can’t do this work without strong, location-level mapping.”

In Maine, Andrew Butcher and the Maine Connectivity Authority have been investing in broadband mapping efforts for years, he said. A parallel mapping process to the FCC’s has helped them allocate previous broadband funds and confirm coverage reported by providers.

“It has allowed us to have a data-driven conversation, as opposed to a policy of dibs,” he said. “We want to understand where there’s service and where there’s not.”


Deadlines, both for submitting initial proposals and awarding subgrants, are on broadband leaders’ minds. Those initial proposals are being submitted in two parts, and states have one year from the approval of part II to award their entire BEAD allocations.

That has Howie’s office in Arkansas worried about completing the challenge process, grant awards, and state rulemaking before the deadline

“The one year, arbitrary timeline that we’re all under at the moment is a huge concern for us,” he said.

Taking time on the initial proposal deadlines is helping states with smaller and newer broadband offices, like Bullard’s office in New Jersey, she said, learn from other states and prepare for the task ahead of them.

“Our plan will be submitted December 27, probably at 11:59,” she said. “It’s giving us some more time for that investment. We’re learning more about our counties… we’re connecting with our community anchor institutions.” 

If you missed the BEAD Implementation Summit, sign up for Broadband Breakfast’s BEAD Starter Pack for $35/month (cancel anytime). You’ll get access to all the videos and each of the three Breakfast Club reports prepared for the BEAD Implementation Summit:

Already a Broadband Breakfast Club member? Watch the videos!

Continue Reading


Michigan Island Asks FCC to Require Fiber for Some Carriers

Missing out on BEAD-funded fiber could ‘materially impair’ the Beaver Island’s ability to compete, a local committee argued.



Photo of Beaver Island from the Beaver Island Boat Company.

WASHINGTON, September 22, 2023 – A small Michigan island, Beaver Island, is asking the Federal Communications Commission to require broadband carriers receiving legacy federal funds to lay fiber-optic cable, or face competition from other providers.

The 55-square mile island is the largest in Lake Michigan and had a population of 616, according to the 2021 American Community Survey from the U.S. Census Bureau.

Beaver Island’s Joint Telecommunications Advisory Committee made the request in a September 18 filing to the FCC asking that the commission reconsider its adoption of the Enhanced Alternative Connect America Cost Model, or Enhanced ACAM. That model updates the previous allocation of federal money from the Universal Service Fund to internet providers in rural areas.

The model makes $13.5 billion available through 2028. It allows carriers to continue receiving funding if they upgrade or continue to provide service at 100 Megabit per second (Mbps) upload by 20 Mbps download – regardless of the technology they use to do so.

This, the island’s committee says, will prevent the island from being reached with fiber-optic cable, the highest capacity, most future-proof broadband technology. The Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment program, established in 2021, allocates $42.5 billion for states to expand broadband infrastructure, but disqualifies areas already served by federal funding.

Michigan’s broadband office estimated its portion BEAD funding could provide fiber-based internet to every location in the state currently receiving less than 100 * 20 Mbps service. That covers all of Beaver Island. But the island expects its providers will take the Enhanced ACAM  money and update their older, copper-based equipment to meet speed requirements rather than compete at auction for BEAD grants to build fiber.

“Rather than assuring [sic] those areas affected by the Order will receive adequate service,” the filing reads, referring to the commission’s official adoption of the new model on September 1, “the Order instead all but guarantees they will receive a service that will quickly become outdated.”

The committee  said in its filing that in order for an Enhanced ACAM recipient to prevent an area from being eligible for BEAD funding, it should be required by the FCC to use fiber.

Providers have until September 29 to accept or deny Enhanced ACAM funding.

Continue Reading

Signup for Broadband Breakfast News

Broadband Breakfast Research Partner