It can take a community to build a network

When tackling large scale projects, the metaphor of eating an elephant is sometimes used by management consultants.

How do you eat an elephant?

One mouthful at a time.

It is a way of saying that such projects can often be broken down into smaller, measurable sub-projects. Those smaller targets help address the over-all goal, but are less intimidating, are more easily managed, and provide milestones to celebrate along the way.

I think the same approach can be applied to rural broadband. Street by street; block by block, broadband technology gets deployed.

A few years ago, an article in the Nation Valley News described the efforts by Storm Internet to rally neighbours together to help with the economics of extending service in its service area in Eastern Ontario. “Rural neighbours working together can help spur arrival of Storm Internet Services’ wireless broadband” describes how Storm would encourage groups to come together to help justify the costs of extending the reach of the network, “because the company ‘can’t throw a node up’ for one or two potential clients, … groups of residents must organize to sign up adequate households on their street or subdivision before the node goes in.”

A couple weeks ago, in “The economics of broadband expansion”, we had a macro level look at the economic considerations impacting rural broadband expansion. At a project level, the economic theory gives way to looking at a return on investment for each wireless tower, or each wire-line extension.

In many communities there are private companies, like Storm, ready to provide high quality broadband service, tower by tower, neighbourhood by neighbourhood. In all but a very few number of cases, the government doesn’t need to build and operate a network, but local, regional, provincial and federal bodies can each play an important role in creating conditions that accelerate network development.

How can governments create and maintain a policy framework that encourages private sector investment in rural broadband? In some cases, direct, partial subsidies are needed to make the business case go positive. In other cases, communities can help by facilitating access to ducts, rights of way or other support structures for fibre, and make available vertical real estate for radio antennas, as described in the Nation Valley News article.

How do you achieve universal access to broadband? You build it one neighbourhood at a time.

1 thought on “It can take a community to build a network”

  1. Hi Mark, nice article… often the community has been proactive in getting Storm’s attention and helped accelerate the business case.

    I trust the readers do not confuse the provisioning of rural business and household internet with mobile access even though the spectrum (frequency) used may be the same.

    Birket Foster

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