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Building out broadband

Fri, 12/31/2004 - 7:00pm
Thomas G. Robinson, Executive Vice President, CBG Communications Inc.

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                            <td><img src="/sites/cedmagazine.com/files/legacyimages/articles/robinson-itl.jpg" width="120" height="154" alt="Thomas G. Robinson" border="1"></td>
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                            <td bgcolor="#f7f7f7"class="copy"><div align="center"><b><a href="mailto:robinson@cbgcommunications.com" class="head"> Thomas G. Robinson</a> Executive Vice President, CBG Communications Inc.</b></div></td>
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I have a colleague who feels &#34;broadbandoned&#34; (apparently a cross between &#34;broadband&#34; and &#34;abandoned&#34;). He laments that he is too far from the central office for DSL, the nearest cable television (and thus cable modem) line is about a mile up the road, there is no local WiFi hot spot, and cell service is hit or miss. I told him that perhaps his telephone company would leapfrog current technology and get fiber right to his premises, and all I heard was a giant scoffing sound on the other end of the line.</p>
<p>His situation, while admittedly extreme, is nonetheless similar to the problems still faced by millions of Americans. There are moves afoot to continue to expand the reach and capability of broadband services, but some of them seem to promote certain technologies and providers at the expense of others, when it will likely be a combination of existing and emerging technologies and services that will ultimately provide broadband to the furthest reaches of the country.</p>
<p>A case-in-point is recent legislation signed by the governor in the State of Pennsylvania. The legislation has been hailed by the administration as a way to bring broadband to even the most rural sections of the state by 2015. Yet, the bill appears to now severely inhibit—except for the state&#39;s largest jurisdiction, Philadelphia—the development of one of the fastest growing broadband resources around the country, municipal wireless systems. It is the view of many in the state, despite the insistence of commercial providers that they are poised to bring services to even the most remote areas, that unless local governments join the fray, 2015 will come and go and there will still be many in the state without access to broadband.</p>
<p>In a number of locales, local governments have already demonstrated their ability to provide such services affordably where commercial providers are not now meeting the need. Further, what seems to be less understood and certainly not acknowledged by the provider community, is that in a number of cases, local governments are partnering with commercial entities to bring broadband services to the community.</p>
<p>One of the things governments and governmental authorities have always been adept at is providing infrastructure. Whether it&#39;s roads, sidewalks, bridges, water and sewer lines or community buildings, nationwide citizens rely on their local governments to provide the basic community infrastructure where they live and work. This can also be true in the provision of wireless broadband services. Local governments provide numerous opportunities for the proper engineering placement of antennas, for example, including municipal towers, public school district buildings, parking garages, water towers, etc. Jurisdictions with even modest public safety agencies or that have a public works department have significant experience in the maintenance of wireless communications. To a certain extent, municipalities are also content providers, since many municipal services can now be provided on-line. Although local governments need revenue to operate, they do not &#34;make money&#34; per se, since municipal corporations are not-for-profit entities. Accordingly, the primary thrust in municipal broadband development is the same public policy imperative espoused by the state of Pennsylvania: to bring broadband to all of its citizens.</p>
<p>There are a multitude of possible ways that local governments and commercial entities could partner in this critical broadband buildout effort, some of which are already being implemented. For example, some local governments are working with vendors where the vendors will provide the network engineering expertise, the equipment and the ongoing system maintenance, while the local government provides the physical support infrastructure, the back office support and promotion of the service&#39;s availability.</p>
<p>In other cases, the local government will fund and provide the entire physical plant, including the network engineering and maintenance. Then it will partner with an ISP or content development firm to develop basic and ancillary wireless services. In a couple of recent cases, this includes commercial partners that sell targeted advertising. For example, let&#39;s say that you link to the wireless network in the northwest section of the city. The first page that appears once the link is established will be an advertisement or promotion for a business that is located nearby to where you are accessing the network, thus promoting convenient services. The technology can even enable time-sensitive promotions (such as a restaurant promoting breakfast selections to those accessing the service in the morning and dinner selections to those accessing the service later in the day). Local governments are also working with such content providers to be able to override these initial commercial promotions either system-wide or on a targeted basis, with time-sensitive emergency information, as part of overall reverse 911 efforts.</p>
<p>Still another model has local governments looking for backbone service partners, where high-capacity backbone services may only be available through commercial infrastructure. This would seem to be an ideal scenario for wireline providers such as cable companies to extend the range and remote accessibility of their own Internet services, where access would otherwise be limited to wireline cable modem connections.</p>
<p>There are some who say that local governments should not be in the broadband business or present unfair competition. The simple fact, though, is that there is still a great broadband gap, some of which is not due to a lack of commercial services, but due to a lack of affordability at current pricing structures.</p>
<p>Regardless of which opinion you hold, it is evident that communities as a whole do benefit by a multiplicity of competing, high-speed broadband access options. A case-in-point is another colleague who complains that he is so connected that he can&#39;t get away from continuous electronic-based interruptions. To him I said, &#34;Go stay awhile with my broadbandoned friend.&#34;</p></span>

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