How did Theo Epstein break two of the longest championship droughts in major sports history when he was the General Manager of the Boston Red Sox and most recently the Chicago Cubs? Because he created a data driven process that their teams developed for decades. Theo Epstein sees something in statistics that others don’t and is able to get a team on the field that will score and stop enough runs to make the playoffs (regardless of how the Cubs have started this season, let’s see where they are in September and October).
While we won’t be having parades and lifting trophies over our heads (maybe we can one day); we are excited to announce a championship caliber process for the broadband industry with the creation of Lit Communities! Our model helps solve the problems that rural and urban communities are facing. Most communities, especially smaller ones, do not have the resources, knowledge, funding, or even desire to build this highly complex new utility, which is going to drive technological advancement for the foreseeable future.
AT&T and Google Fiber
The creation of our process started almost 15 years ago when AT&T approached me about creating something that hadn’t been done in their company before. I worked with counterparts on the AT&T side to build a Network Design center in Birmingham, AL that would support the entire Southeast for their Uverse deployment to deliver TV and internet services (if you lived in a certain location). This design center would handle every job for the states of Florida, Alabama, Louisiana and Mississippi. We had over 200 designers, 20 call center technicians, 15 data techs that posted all final test results, and field survey teams that peaked out at 100 employees. We posted As-Builts and test results in real time. Once everything was done, we sent it off to AT&T so they could market their service offerings. In a span of six years, we connected over 3 million homes. We built tools and streamlined workflows allowing us to be almost six months ahead of schedule. However, when Google announced Google Fiber and connected homes in Kansas City beginning in 2012 it changed how I approached the broadband industry as a whole and pushed me to take a step back and evaluate what we were doing, both right and wrong. After all our success with the AT&T Southeast project, we still thought we weren’t doing enough to get connectivity to everyone, and I applaud Google for disrupting the industry in the way it needed to happen at the time!
Google announced their fiber initiative and began building out in Kansas City, MO, and I reflected upon what we had been doing with AT&T. Based on the model and technology we were building we were still cutting ourselves off short and millions of people were being left out.. The initial roll out of AT&T’s program only brought fiber to a box called a VRAD that would then transmit data across copper lines to deliver DSL and cable TV. Depending on how far you lived from that box you could get the services, but because of copper limitations, if you lived too far (over 5,500 feet) then you were still stuck with either dial up or satellite services.
Why hadn’t AT&T extended fiber all the way to the home? Why didn’t they care about the customers that lived 5,500 feet away from their electronics? I began answering these questions and started looking at how to do things differently with the processes we had already created. We began looking at LiDAR technology, automated designs and what fiber could really do. We rebuilt the process we created with AT&T on steroids, to be even more efficient, and began working directly with Google Fiber in Austin, San Antonio and Salt Lake City. We quickly realized Google was in over their heads; regardless of how much money you have, it’s a challenge to step into a large city that’s been doing things a certain way for over 100 years and change that.
Google had to be “Googley” and do something different in every market they went to. While that was a good idea, the execution of those ideas were lacking because there are just some things you can’t do with software. You must use software and technology in the correct process with human interaction and then the work flows can be executed properly. Our team began to look at what Google was doing and wondered, why were they struggling to get moving the way we all thought they would?
Open Application Municipal Broadband Networks
After a few years of working with Google Fiber and improving their large city build outs we again knew that things could be done better. Open Access, or as we call it Open Application, was a model constantly being discussed as we researched broadband networks across the globe. This model has wired the entire country of Sweden, parts of Washington state, and continuously expanding across Utah with their UTOPIA network. It blew my mind, and I was instantly consumed with how we could do this in more parts of the country. This is when I shifted my focus to municipal broadband.
Over the past four years our team has worked to build “The Process” that can take an idea of a broadband network and turn it into reality. When we started, we knew this couldn’t be done by ourselves due to the complexity of these networks. We spent the first year building our partnership team and establishing the tasks we felt were necessary to be successful. Once we felt like the partners and process was solid, we began marketing to and educating communities. The market assessment was the first step in our process, and we were frequently fighting an uphill battle because there were a lot of consultants in the space completing feasibility studies and dragging out the process longer than what was necessary. We constantly state, it is always feasible…. and anyone can Google search broadband stats to tell you how it is needed or how it will boost the local economy, local workforce, etc. Instead of giving communities long winded reports that would put me to sleep during a flight, we got down to the nuts and bolts immediately. By analyzing how much a network costs and projected revenues,we can create a business plan that will create confidence when going to the next steps of network deployment. We complete a strategy session, execute auto-designs with multiple architecture options, collect LiDAR data, and conduct field ride outs to come up with designs that result in accurate cost estimates. In parallel to these tasks we will send out a survey to the community and analyze what the demand would look like to get us accurate revenue projections. Using all that data we can create a business plan specific to the market that gives leadership the knowledge to make a Go- or No-Go decision.
Every community we have worked with has decided to Go! The business plan and financial models, both enhanced with survey data from the community, allow us to raise the funding needed. Gathering capital for these projects is always a process and most of the time the showstopper, but our business plans detail and hedge the risks almost completely for investors. Based on the community, we will stack the capital appropriately and quickly move to the next steps. Grants, bonds, construction loans, private debt and equity can all be used, but each network is different. We have gone through the first part of the process with Breckenrdge, CO, Broomfield, CO, New Orleans, LA, Medina County, OH, Lampasas, TX and others. Each community is now moving to the next steps of detailed engineering or construction. Some of them had to start with a backbone middle mile network while others could get going ASAP on the last mile. In Medina County, OH for example, we will have homes and businesses connected to an Open Application Network roughly 13 months from when we began,one of the quickest municipal networks planned and built to date. Some areas have been going through the feasibility studies and procurement phases for over five years. If they had gone through our process, their networks may have been 100% complete during that same time period.
The other reason we could move so quickly in those markets is because of the political will and the government partnerships we’ve built. During the market assessment phase, we work hand in hand with each community for easier permitting processes, the creation of Dig Once policies, One Touch Make Ready, and reasonable joint use utility pole agreements, and more. Without some of these items we might not be able to make the business plan work, but as I mentioned above, each one of our communities has bought in to these ideas and worked with us to build win-win scenarios for all parties involved. These items are just like cash for the project and can be looked at as equity. It saves us money and allows for speed to market. Once revenue comes in, then we can start using that to expand and invest in the smart city applications that the community can now use because of proper connectivity.
If you want to be like the Cubs or the Red Sox of the broadband world and bring your community into the 21st century, we have the ability to get you there and it isn’t a pipe dream anymore! We have the experience, the partnerships, the providers, and “The Process” that will get your community connected. Our vision has always been that we want to connect people to each other and through this technology there is no limit to what we can accomplish. Does your community want to get Lit today?