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Brieana Reed-Harmel: Capital Construction of a Municipal Broadband Utility 101

The author led the city of Loveland, Colorado, through the assessment and feasibility study of publicly-owned broadband.



The author of this Expert Opinion is Brieana Reed-Harmel, manager of the Pulse fiber-optic network.

I am the manager for Pulse, the municipally owned broadband utility in Loveland and parts of Larimer County, Colorado. We made strong choices early on that put us on a path to success.

Having broken ground fewer than six months before the start of the pandemic, I am continually impressed with how smoothly our work has progressed. Put simply, I want you to be as successful as we have been.

Define the plan, assess your skills and determine what you need

Documenting the plan makes it easy to share the vision. The plan needs to include the high-level vision and strategy, but also delve into the granular, tactical details as it establishes your success criteria. What does success look like in terms of customer take rate, time to rollout and network documentation?

Include details related to long-term maintenance, and what operations will eventually look like as it will affect the network design, construction methods and the type of materials you decide to use. Understanding these details can greatly change cost models, as some choices have lower upfront costs but higher longer term maintenance costs, and vice versa, which can make or break a business model.

It’s also essential to self-assess and know what skill sets you already have in-house that can be leveraged and what skills you need to acquire. A key component that was built into our plan was having two distinct buckets of staff and vendor partners — one with a focus on operations of a fledgling utility and the other focused on the success of the construction of the capital project.

This foundation allows your team to work the plan, adjust it as needed, and most importantly, have the bandwidth to handle anything out of scope that comes up along the way — and believe me, situations you’re not expecting are going to come up (see: lockdown 2020).

Become an expert at managing experts and find your people

It’s simply not possible to be an expert in every skill that you’ll need to execute a project of this magnitude — fiber-design, hut selection, customer experience and billing, supply chain management and myriad others. That said, an intensely curious nature will serve you well. It will be helpful to work on becoming an expert at evaluating experts — how they solve problems, how they approach complications, what is their motivation, how do they stay up to speed in their industries, how effective they will be at applying their expertise in the service of your goal.

Being able to rely upon your team around you as you navigate a dynamic and ever changing project is invaluable. And, most important of all in my opinion, do they bring the right mindset that will add to your organization? Understanding your brand proposition, the community you are serving, and having a customer first and public service mindset is essential to success.

Seek out partners, not just contractors. With Ditesco ServicesColorado Boring and Backbone Fiber we were fortunate to find locally-owned partners for our capital construction project management and primary boring. They genuinely care about the optics of the project in the community because they are part of the community.

With other partnerships, including OnTrac, Inc. and internal hires, we looked for skills and an internal compass pointing toward improving the lives of our residents. Our team members embody the principles of public service and are all proud to have dedicated their careers to the development of a critical community resource.

Solid systems setup, scaling and quality assurance

Set up internal systems early on. Define what programs and platforms you’ll use, frequency of check-ins and timelines for response to inquiries. As an example, we put our teams through media and communications training before shovels hit the ground, ensuring everybody knew what to do from something as simple as an inquiring resident on the jobsite to something more serious like a utility hit.  Another example was spending time to automate provisioning of network equipment to our OSS/BSS system.

It was time-consuming at first but has allowed us to better use limited staff resources more efficiently and scale effectively as we have grown. Each component of the project and the associated team had clear boundaries. It bears repeating that effective people, process, and technology systems ensure there is plenty of bandwidth to handle anomalies.

With systems in place, the data pipeline to analyze what is working well and what is not is there to be improved upon from the beginning. You’ll have your own benchmark data, allowing you to iterate and improve against your own metrics, and not just general industry standard estimates. You are able to scale as needed, and it’s easy to keep an eye on quality and discover areas that need improvement.

Nurturing the human elements in a technical project

Managers are often criticized for holding cards close to the chest. They don’t always make it easy for others to see the big picture of what’s going on. That strategy is not going to serve you well. We have received a tremendous amount of positive feedback from all of our partners that they feel very much in the loop. They appreciate the environment we’ve cultivated for external partners to interact with one another.

We have regular in-person-and-digitally-accessible meetings to make sure that the systems are working as intended, and to determine where we need to improve. We make it as easy as possible for everybody to understand what’s working, what isn’t, and what they’re responsible for when we collectively decide to optimize.

To your success

We made mistakes along the way and learned many valuable lessons as we went through this process. But we were prepared to deal with issues, because we baked that bandwidth into our plan and systems. Our advice to others is that if you focus on your plan, systems, the vision and well-being of the people in your organization, you’ll find yourself walking a similar path to outstanding community connectivity.

Brieana Reed-Harmel is the Manager for Pulse, the community- owned fiber-optic broadband network in Loveland, Colorado. Brieana brings over 20 years of utility experience in engineering and leadership roles, spanning both the public and private sectors. She was officially named Municipal Fiber Manager in December 2018 after leading the city through the assessment and feasibility study of publicly owned broadband. This piece is exclusive to Broadband Breakfast.

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

Broadband Breakfast is a decade-old news organization based in Washington that is building a community of interest around broadband policy and internet technology, with a particular focus on better broadband infrastructure, the politics of privacy and the regulation of social media. Learn more about Broadband Breakfast.

Community Broadband

Gigi Sohn Announced as New Executive Director of the American Association for Public Broadband

In surprise announcement at keynote luncheon, Sohn revealed as the first executive director of the new organization advocating for municipalities.



Photo of Gigi Sohn at press conference at Broadband Communities by Drew Clark

HOUSTON, May 3, 2023 – President Joe Biden’s former Federal Communications Commission nominee Gigi Sohn concluded her keynote remarks at the Broadband Communities Summit here with the announcement that she will be the first executive director of the American Association for Public Broadband.

“With money flowing from federal governments down to states and localities for public broadband to have a network that works for them,” Sohn said, “now is the perfect time“ to join the new association, whose founding was announced at the summit here last May.

Sohn said that public providers need to “have access to the same funding as private” ISPs.

In remarks at a press conference following the announcement, Sohn highlighted the need for public broadband advocates to find local community champions for broadband networks.

Such champions, Sohn said, need to say: “I want this, my community needs this, and we are going to figure out a way to have this.”

“We need to find those people,” she said of the state and local champions for broadband. “An awful lot of them are in conservative states.”

In announcing her new position in a fireside chat, Sohn talked about her 16 months after being designated a Federal Communications Commissioner by President Biden in November 2021, the trials of three congressional hearings, and her decision to withdraw her nomination from consideration in March 2023 after failing to secure the votes for Senate passage.

Sohn spoke in the luncheon keynote with Kim McKinley, chief marketing officer at UTOPIA Fiber, and Bob Knight, a local government official from Richfield, Connecticut.

Vocal advocate for public broadband

Sohn has been a vocal advocate of public broadband for years, and said that “there should be a level playing field” between public and private broadband. “This is about freedom for communities and their leaders to choose what kind of broadband their residents should have,” she said.

Sohn’s leadership of the association will focus on building this freedom for public broadband, she said.

She said that her number one priority will be to increase membership of AAPB, she said. The next priority will be to ensure that public broadband entities have access to federal funding coming down the pipeline on an equal basis to private companies.

The non-profit AAPB was founded by state and local broadband officials to build a diverse membership of public broadband networks nationwide and advocate for municipal broadband at all government levels.

“Until now, there has not been a membership-based advocacy organization that works to ensure that public broadband can grow unimpeded by anti-competitive barriers,” said Sohn. “We have the chance to make a positive case for states to fund and communities to choose public broadband and oppose barriers to local choice.”

Speaking of her 16 month ordeal, Sohn said it was “enormously frustrating” to not be able to talk about important issues during the process.

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Community Broadband

Public-Private Partnership Provides Access and Affordability Solutions in Brownsville

In 2014, Brownsville was ranked as the worst-connected city in the United States.



Photo of Brownsville Assistant City Manager Elizabeth Walker at the Broadband Communities Summit by Drew Clark

HOUSTON, May 2, 2023 — In a city previously known for having the worst digital divide in the country, a new public-private partnership is offering potential solutions for building out middle mile and last mile fiber infrastructure while remaining accessible for a low-income population.

The city of Brownsville, Texas and its private partner Lit Communities are working together to “speak to exactly those concerns that our constituents expressed to us — access and affordability,” said Elizabeth Walker, Brownsville’s assistant city manager, in a keynote address at the Broadband Communities Summit on Monday.

Brownsville is investing $19.5 million in funding from the American Rescue Plan Act to construct middle mile infrastructure and connect community anchor institutions, and private providers will closely follow to build out the last mile network. The initiative, called BTX Fiber, will utilize an open access model to promote competition.

In 2014, the National Digital Inclusion Alliance ranked Brownsville as the worst-connected city in the United States, noting that 44.8 percent of the city’s households lacked internet access.

Over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic, the city’s growing digital divide had significant costs for residents who were unable to participate in remote work or education.

“The digital divide was very real, and it was crushing the potential of the next generation,” Walker said.

In addition to a lack of broadband availability, many residents also struggled with a lack of affordability, Walker added. In fact, affordability was mentioned by nearly a third of the residents who commented in a feasibility study commissioned by the city.

“Our population is, by every definition, low income and suffers the challenges of that socioeconomic burden… a full third of our population is categorically within poverty,” she said.

BTX Fiber’s pricing structure was carefully designed to provide a service tier that would be completely subsidized through the Affordable Connectivity Program for eligible households, offering symmetrical speeds of 100 megabits per second. On the upper end, the network aims to provide symmetrical gigabit speeds.

Walker highlighted the need for augmenting staff as one of the major lessons learned throughout the process. In addition to bringing in technological subject matter experts, the city is partnering with a local college to create a workforce development program in hopes of training workers to install the middle mile infrastructure.

Another takeaway from the project has been the importance of staying agile, Walker said. “Where we are right now… is not necessarily how it is we thought we would get to where we are.”

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Broadband's Impact

CLIC, AAPB and Broadband Breakfast Host Super Session on Community Broadband Initiatives on May 1

Brought to you by the Coalition for Local Internet Choice, the American Association for Public Broadband and Broadband Breakfast.



Brownsville Assistant City Manager Elizabeth Walker

April 26, 2023 – Three organizations that share a commitment to enhancing broadband connectivity by local governments will join together in hosting a “super session” at the Broadband Communities Summit on Monday, May 1, at 12 Noon CT.

This exciting session will be the kickoff of the four-day conference at the Woodlands Waterway Marriott Hotel & Convention Center near Houston, Texas, and includes a keynote speak by Elizabeth Walker, Assistant City Manager in Brownsville, Texas.

Register for the session online for FREE.

Register to attend the session at the Broadband Communities Summit.

The organizations hosting the event – the Coalition for Local Internet Choice, the American Association for Public Broadband, and Broadband Breakfast – have orchestrated two panels, one on “Pushing Back on Barriers to Public Broadband Initiatives and Partnerships” and the other on “The Role of Partnerships In Meeting America’s Broadband Challenges.”

See the full program of the super session, and the entire Broadband Communities Summit

Vital role of local government in broadband decisions

Local governments are increasingly making key broadband infrastructure decisions, as owners, operators, or partners.

Following the keynote remarks by Assistant City Manager Walker, this three-hour workshop will focus on how to fight back against organized misinformation campaigns designed to derail public broadband initiatives and partnerships, including what communities can do to identify and resist state measures that may explicitly or effectively exclude them from eligibility for federal, state, and other funding resources.

The second panel will focus on the critical role of broadband partnerships in America’s broadband future and the key features of successful partnerships.

Opening Welcome and Introduction:

  • Jim Baller – President, Coalition for Local Internet Choice

Introduction of Keynoter:

  • Drew Clark – Editor and Publisher, Broadband Breakfast; Attorney at Law, Drew Clark PLLC


First Panel: Pushing Back on Barriers to Public Broadband Initiatives and Partnerships

  • Christopher Mitchell (moderator) – Director, Community Broadband Networks, Institute for Local Self-Reliance
  • Terry Huval – Executive Director, Transmission Access Policy Study Group (TAPS)
  • Peggy Schaffer – Board Member, American Association of Public Broadband
  • Scott Menhart – Member of the Board of Directors, American Association for Public Broadband; CTO, Traverse City (MI) Light & Power

Second Panel: The Role of Partnerships In Meeting America’s Broadband Challenges

Following the three-hour super-session, from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. CT, five members of Keller & Heckman’s telecommunications group will highlight the key legal issues at each stage.

This session will include identifying and dealing with authority issues and procedures; maximizing funding opportunities; developing strategic partnerships; securing access to infrastructure, content, and customers; establishing effective governance structures; understanding evolving cybersecurity and privacy requirements; implementing 911 and other emergency management rules; drafting effective agreements of many kinds; complying with federal, state, and local regulatory requirements; and much more.

Register for the session online for FREE.

Register to attend the session at the Broadband Communities Summit.

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