Local governments have long pioneered efforts to expand broadband availability and competition; for more than a decade, they have tested public projects and public–private partnerships to deliver new broadband to their citizens. As they look to the future, communities can choose to build their own broadband networks or can work toward new partnerships with private broadband deployers. Among the models for partnership is one in which a community works to facilitate new private investment in gigabit-speed networks by optimizing available assets and processes at key touch-points in the construction cycle.
Our analysis is based on our work since 1996 assisting states and localities to plan, design, and build broadband networks. Based on that experience, we recently wrote a detailed analysis of these strategies (see our Gigabit Communities page) and below, we summarize some of the steps communities can take in such a partnership.
But we caution that these strategies are merely one side of a successful equation—and if there is not another side to the public-private partnership, local government efforts are unlikely to bear fruit. Indeed, unless the private partner is truly committed to building gigabit-capable networks, these strategies may serve merely to transfer some costs of doing business from an incumbent phone or cable company to the public.
Simply stated, the key ingredient for public-private partnership in gigabit deployment is true partnership between a locality and a willing and able private partner—one that is committed to building next-generation infrastructure rather than simply reducing costs on existing, inadequate legacy networks.
In brief summary, some of the strategies localities can undertake in partnership with private broadband deployers fall into three general categories:
- Facilitating access to key assets such as fiber, conduit, utility poles, and real estate
- Making available useful information
- Streamlining and publicizing essential local processes
These categories are described briefly here, with representative examples. Extensive additional examples, case studies, and engineering analysis are included in our full report.
STRATEGIES FOR ACCESS TO KEY ASSETS
One of the biggest challenges in bringing better broadband access to more people is the cost of building the networks. New network deployments benefit from quick access to existing fiber optics, utility poles, underground cable conduit, and real estate where equipment can be located. These assets reduce the provider’s construction costs (or the locality’s, in the event the infrastructure is for a public project). The local community can take steps to make existing assets available—and lessen the time and effort required to use them. Access to dark fiber, underground conduit, and real estate all time and cost saving strategies communities can use to help expedite construction.
In our view, access to fiber and conduit is the single most powerful tool a locality can use to incent construction of new fiber networks. The most important recommendations we have ever given our clients is to build conduit and fiber whenever the opportunity presents itself—those assets can support local governments’ own internal networks and, if sufficiently robust and extensive, can serve as the core for private deployment of new gigabit networks.
There are a range of strategies for building fiber/conduit assets locally, many of them very cost-effective if planned comprehensively. For example, the locality can require “dig-once” practices, in which both public and private entities build their fiber/conduit when other projects are underway—building fiber when the streets are already undergoing construction for other reasons makes for more efficient network construction. At the same time, the community benefits by reducing traffic disruptions from construction and protecting roads and sidewalks from life-shortening cuts.
Another critical need in broadband deployment is access to utility poles. Optimally, the network builder needs a swift “make-ready” process to prepare the poles for new fiber. In most communities, the poles are owned by phone and electric companies, which control both fees and time frames for new fiber attachments. Localities, however, can encourage private pole owners to consolidate attachments; reserve pole space; and undertake other steps that may reduce make-ready time and costs—thereby reducing the average cost of aerial fiber construction.
A further challenge is entry into a building or development. Localities can require by code—or incentive—that developers build additional pathways from the public rights-of-way to an in-building demarcation as well as internal, standards-compliant building cabling or cable pathways.
STRATEGIES FOR INFORMATION ACCESS
Most localities already devote considerable resources to data collection. Some data sets already have on hand can be made available to network deployers. With this information, it becomes easier, faster, and cheaper to plan large-scale broadband construction projects. Similarly, by making available data regarding their existing fiber and conduit, localities can enable providers to lease public fiber and conduit as part of their network designs.
Existing Geographic Information Systems—advanced mapping systems with high-resolution detail—can serve new purposes that weren’t previously contemplated. For example, GIS data on buildings, streets, utilities, zoning, and a host of other layers can be enormously helpful to construction project managers as they examine options and determines what assets are needed to plan and to build.
STRATEGIES FOR PROCESS EFFICIENCY
As with any large-scale project, smooth processes enhance broadband deployment. At the same time, localities have to balance the needs of broadband providers with the public cost of the processes necessary to support them and with other priorities that clamor for the same resources. Unlike a private sector partner, a locality cannot focus its internal processes and efforts on one single end goal; local governments are responsible for impacts throughout their communities that do not concern the broadband industry.
One way to balance these competing interests is to make processes standard and easily identifiable. Such strategies enable localities to facilitate broadband projects without sacrificing their ability to simultaneously attend to other projects and priorities. For example, timelines can be determined based on local needs, publicized, and then met. Whether a community commits to review permit applications within three days or 10 days or 20 days, that commitment can be publicized and then consistently met. Transparency about processes and timelines enables broadband companies to expeditiously plan and deploy networks, and enables localities to manage the costs and burdens of the processes necessary to meet broadband providers’ needs. Government and provider stakeholders can cooperatively plan before construction so as to understand respective schedules and needs, and so that the provider can plan to stage its work around known and predictable local processes.
Our full, detailed report on this topic can be found here. The report was prepared with sponsorship from Google, but the content represents our independent view and we are solely responsible for the analysis. Our thanks to Google for the support that enabled us to write this report, which we hope will serve to advance gigabit network deployment, a cause we consider fundamental to the national interest and to the interests of our local communities.
Joanne Hovis, President
Andrew Afflerbach, Ph.D, PE, CEO