Community leaders need to watch, learn, and respond as providers race for space on poles and underground.
Even before the pandemic, there was a lack of fiber infrastructure across the United States, especially in rural and low-income areas. Unfortunately, the reasons why typically center on politics and large companies controlling the narrative and monopolizing the markets. Providing a proper broadband network to these less-profitable areas was not that important, especially to big operators with limited or no competition.
But things have changed. Community broadband networks, small internet service providers, and public-private partnerships have begun popping up across the country in unprecedented numbers.
Large telcos and cable companies typically respond by doing everything they can do to stop what they call “overbuilding.” They say that happens when a fiber network is built in the same right-of-way or on an aerial pole line where an existing network exists, whether it’s copper, coax, or wireless.
But replacing old technology with new is not “overbuilding.” It’s progress. Doing otherwise is like requiring people to drive a hand-cranked antique instead of a gas-powered or electric car simply because of where they live.
Sounds crazy, right? But millions of Americans still can’t connect to the internet, as critical as that connectivity is, simply because of where they live. And millions more can’t access adequate high-speed broadband. That’s not just crazy, it’s tragic and unnecessary. Technology changes and we must adapt. Your connectivity should be no different.
A digital divide emerges, one infrastructure owner at a time
The digital divide began growing quickly as the big operators focused on fiber-to-home networks in the low-hanging fruit of densely populated big cities. At the same time, though, business models – including ours – emerged that proved you don’t need to be a large telco or cable company to build a proper communication network.
A growing number of cities and utility cooperatives began building and operating their own fiber broadband services. Multiple providers also now compete across open-access networks while public-private partnerships with a single provider or utility lease model roll out new connectivity all across the country.
Until now, the right-of-ways and utility poles only had one infrastructure owner at a time so that was manageable for most municipalities. But some forward-thinking communities saw what was coming and created dig-once and one-touch make ready policies. Lit Communities could see it, too, and began implementing strategic community initiatives that would prepare for the fast-approaching fiber boom. As a startup, it was cool to see the grassroots movement slowly gaining steam.
The race to bridge the divide has begun
Then in early 2020, COVID changed everything. A virus sent everyone home to work, attend school, and try to connect with their loved ones. The race to bridge the digital divide went into overdrive.
People learned quickly that download AND upload speeds were important and it became acutely plain that the FCC standard of 25/3 was badly outdated. Households lucky enough to have proper symmetrical services can do just fine, but those on the other side of the connectivity gap struggle now at a whole new level because of society’s growing expectations that people have such service at home, work, and school.
As rural and small-town communities alike got moving on these initiatives, Lit Communities also began to thrive because we’re built for these types of community partnerships in network deployments. But in the meantime, we’re beginning to see risks and challenges emerge that we weren’t expecting for another five years or so.
More Money = More Problems
Those challenges are fueled by the vast opportunities created by the huge influx of infrastructure money from the CARES Act and then the American Rescue Plan Act. Current and future public funds for broadband buildouts are available at a level never before imagined, creating the ability to change the connectivity story forever.
Smart city dreams can now become a reality for any community ready to move forward with providing broadband services. But can supply chains keep up? How about people with skill sets now not taught in school? How can municipalities manage this influx of permits? How can pole owners handle all the applications being submitted?
Here at Lit, we’re seeing firsthand how such fast-moving events can overwhelm local governments. For example, we proposed building a joint conduit network for future underground work in a city where we were installing fiber infrastructure. That notion was shot down and eight months later, the city can’t keep up with locate requests, and gas lines keep getting hit because the local gas company has outdated records.
Compounding the situation is that the large power company that serves that city is charging so much in make-ready costs for their poles that it makes more sense to build underground. That used to be unheard of in our industry.
That’s not all. That same large utility is starting to move its infrastructure from aerial to underground itself. And an incumbent provider that has had copper cable in the area for years is starting to switch to fiber, while yet another cable company is building fiber to the curb. Residents are complaining about all the construction and many are understandably confused and frustrated by the activity and related damage. We have planned and communicated properly where all homes will be passed in the city in a strategic manner while these other projects are just getting started.
The lessons in a land rush
What we have here is a land rush that we can expect to see repeated across the country. Who can build better infrastructure first? There are solutions. If this city had implemented a dig-once policy and clear right-of-way ordinances, and if the joint conduit proposal would have gone through, would they be in this same situation? I suspect not, but we’ll never know.
There are lessons here all municipalities need to learn. With historic levels of funds available and new startups and established players rushing to provide that new broadband infrastructure, it’s truly going to be a race to see who can get on a utility pole or in the public right-of-way first. In some places, even the large cable companies are trying to bypass city ordinances and just build without permission.
There are many ways to be prepared for this most modern version of an American land rush. What is your community doing to prepare and participate?
In this interview, Jessica Fowler, Lit Communities Chief Client Officer, talks about the exciting work being done to bridge the digital divide. Grab a cup of coffee and take a moment to listen to how Lit is addressing several challenges municipalities are facing and overcoming as actionable plans are being developed and executed and Fiber Internet is being deployed.
Broadband public affairs attorney Lindsay Miller has joined Lit Communities as President of Consulting for the fiber optic broadband consulting, construction, and design firm based in Birmingham, Alabama. She had been Partner and Vice Chair of the Government Law Group in the Columbus, Ohio, office of Ice Miller LLP.
Miller will continue her focus on helping local governments and their stakeholders build public-private partnerships for the creation and expansion of fiber and wireless networks across the country.
“I am grateful for the opportunities and growth I was provided in the broadband industry during my time with Ice Miller. I am also excited about the ongoing opportunities we’ll have to work together to guide local leaders in executing strategies for ubiquitous broadband coverage and digital inclusion,” Miller said.
Lit Communities and Ice Miller frequently collaborate on consulting engagements that include community broadband interest assessments, service access mapping, incumbent provider analysis, and financial and network modeling.
“Lindsay Miller is well known in the community broadband space and we’re delighted to have her join our team and devote her energy and knowledge full-time to the broadband industry. Her passion for the business and deep connections with its many, diverse stakeholders will serve Lit and, most importantly, all of our current and future clients,” said Brian Snider, founder and CEO of Lit Communities.
Miller joined Ice Miller in 2016 after serving as Executive Director of Connect Ohio and Broadband Research and Planning Counsel for Connected Nation, a nonprofit organization focused on facilitating broadband access, adoption, and use. She earned her Bachelor of Arts in Psychology from the University of Kentucky and dual Master of Arts in Public Policy and Management and Juris Doctorate from The Ohio State University.
SEVILLE, Ohio – June 23, 2022 –After completing an extensive evaluation and testing process, Lit Communities has selected Vitruvi’s construction management software to accelerate the ongoing construction of Medina Fiber’s expanding broadband internet network across Medina County.
Vitruvi is based in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, and is a leading provider of solutions that integrate the complicated workflow, documentation, and data – including critical GIS information – involved in creating new wireless and wire-based networks.
Lit Communities is in the midst of building out Medina Fiber’s broadband services in phased deployments that will result in fast, reliable internet access to 45,000 homes and businesses across the county just west of Akron in Northeast Ohio.
“Our rapid progress depends on having best in class tools to manage construction and deployment accurately and efficiently. Vitruvi’s experience and the robust capabilities of its scheduling platform and GIS-enabled tools will prove invaluable as we move forward,” said Brian Snider, CEO of Lit Communities in Birmingham, Alabama.
“We’re excited to join Lit Communities in its work to expand Medina Fiber’s broadband internet capabilities across the ISP’s entire service area. Our built-for-purpose telecom construction software will help these innovative organizations meet their ambitious buildout and deployment goals, and the community will be the ultimate winner here with the availability of the best that digital infrastructure has to offer for learning, business, education, entertainment, and time-critical communications of all types,” said Justin Reid, Vice President/Sales for Vitruvi.
Developed by a team that has “lived the problem of deploying complex network projects.” Vitruvi is an innovative end-to-end telecom construction software platform that greatly improves project efficiencies. Vitruvi re-defines the precision of infrastructure wireless and wireline construction project management (CM) by seamlessly converting GIS designs into a web and mobile app-based construction management solution. Vitruvi aggregates designs, documents, timelines, and construction data to form a single source of truth that all project stakeholders can refer to. Being fully GIS-enabled with an emphasis on user experience, users can access real-time construction management of timelines, schedule of values, labor, and materials. Vitruvi is available on desktop and on mobile Android and iOS devices. Discover more at www.vitruvisoftware.com
About Lit Communities
Lit Communities is both a forward-thinking builder and operator of next-generation network infrastructure and a consultancy that guides communities across the country through the complicated process of deploying their own open application fiber optic utilities. Lit Communities believes that by separating the network infrastructure from the services provided on it, a more resilient and consumer-friendly environment is created. This approach makes otherwise prohibitively expensive networks feasible to build in communities of all sizes. Learn more about Lit Communities.
The Honorable Will Metcalf P.O. Box 12068 Capitol Station Austin, TX 78711
RE: Public Statement on House Interim Charges (88th Legislative Session)
Greetings Chairman Metcalf:
Thank you for the opportunity to provide a written statement regarding the House Interim Charges related to HB 5 before the House State Affairs Committee today, April 26, 2022. At this time, our company would like to provide the following public comments regarding the interim charges before the committee.
We are thankful that the 87th State Legislature approved HB 5 and are excited to see the implementation of the Broadband Development Office (BDO). With parallel passage of the American Rescue Plan Act, Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act and active policy developments at the federal and state levels, we look forward to future public meetings and opportunities for engagement to learn more about the BDO, its operations and major updates including availability of the State’s initial Broadband Plan, Broadband Map, upcoming solicitation for U.S. Treasury Capital Project Fund proposals, implementation of NTIA block grant funding and 5-year planning for the Broadband, Equity, Access and Deployment (BEAD) program.
The BDO’s current Broadband Listening Tour has been a great opportunity for Lit Communities to share its perspectives on exploring broadband solutions through our Community Assessment process as well as a private partner for Fiber to the Premise deployment. We hope that the Listening Tour has provided validation that challenges exist in unserved and underserved areas in both rural and urban communities throughout the State. Regarding the development of the State’s Broadband Development Map, we are excited to see how the map will illustrate and designate eligible areas and how it will be used in conjunction with the upcoming release of the FCC’s Broadband Serviceable Location Fabric mapping data. We hope that the combination of these resources will create a streamlined approach for not only identifying eligible unserved and underserved areas with greater accuracy and confidence but also minimize unnecessary challenges from incumbent providers which would inadvertently result in a burden to the State and delay the deployment of funding. In terms of leveraging data from the State’s Broadband Map, we believe it will be very helpful for avoiding duplication of funding from the Economic Development Administration, US Department of Agriculture and Federal Communications Commission (Rural Digital Opportunity Fund). We are also encouraged to learn that the BDO is supportive of adopting a higher broadband speed threshold of 100/100 Mbps symmetrical. In terms of closing the Digital Divide, 100/100 is a great minimum threshold to support deployment in unserved and underserved communities and should be scalable for gigabit speeds for higher thresholds as technology advances.
With respect to the State’s initial Broadband Plan, we are excited to see the report, findings, and recommendations regarding broadband development throughout the State. Given the BEAD funding’s long-range planning requirements, we are optimistic that the initial plan will serve as an excellent baseline for data that we have today as well as additional information that we will have in the coming months from the FCC. We are also looking forward to learning what the State Broadband Plan will include with respect to state and regional approaches to broadband development, such as the Middle Mile deployment efforts being undertaken by the Lower Colorado River Authority. We believe that regional and multi-county approaches can serve as best practices and provide significant cost- effectiveness and allow for greater flexibility in the broadband solutions included and funded by the State. Lastly, given the long-term need to address workforce development and supply chain challenges, we hope that the BDO includes an overview of baseline needs and potential actions to address these issues. There is no doubt that the deployment of funding for broadband infrastructure will create a lasting impact on our State, however we cannot lose sight of the tremendous opportunity we have as a State to create jobs and build capacity to support these assets and investments.
In conclusion, we are thankful for the Texas Legislature, Comptroller of Public Accounts and State Broadband Development Office’s coordinated work to implement the HB 5 legislation, which will be an essential element of the State’s ability and capacity to implement the future BEAD funding and strategically curtail the digital divide. We appreciate the Committee’s consideration of these suggestions and are available to answer any questions you may have.
Sincerely, Rene Gonzalez
Chief Strategy Officer Lit Communities Broadband, Inc.