Five Essential Components Of A Successful Rural Broadband Project
Updated: Mar 20
A few weeks ago, one of my industry friends posted a survey asking what factors have the biggest impact on rural broadband deployment. On the list were the usual suspects: access to capital, OSP design, supply chain, etc.
One of the most-cited answers to this question was "access to capital," which I thought was an interesting and important insight into the complexity of broadband deployment outside of the OSP design and engineering challenges that surround our day-to-day work.
As our team has learned more about securing funding, working with local government, and managing fiber networks, I thought I would put together a list of five crucial elements to a successful rural broadband project.
1. Passionate local government
You'll run into loads of red tape over the course of any fiber deployment project. Between acquiring funding, setting up pole attachment agreements, and dealing with private and public right-of-way (among lots of other headaches), getting your town connected can feel like an uphill battle. Things get a bit easier when your local government is invested in and excited about the project.
2. Top-tier network management and consulting
Your community's best friend throughout this process should be a solid broadband infrastructure team. The right firm will help secure funding, navigate the feasibility of the project, acquire materials, and coordinate contractors. Additionally, these teams will help manage the network until your municipality is ready to manage it yourself or until your municipality is ready to sell the network to a larger fiber company. We recommend partnering with a team like Lit Communities to ensure your project's success. These teams live and breathe the broadband deployment process, and are typically connected enough to provide an impressive turnkey solution.
3. Dynamic, well-connected engineering teams
One of the most important parts of any FTTx project is OSP engineering and design. A full-stack engineering team should be able to handle a low-cost initial route determination and manage the entire aerial and underground engineering/design process, if not both. A local engineering firm will also have experience applying for attachments in the local service territories and will have a good understanding of make ready costs and construction timelines. These teams can leverage their relationship with the local pole owners and help negotiate custom timelines on your behalf—depending on the size of the project.
One additional note: if pole attachments are regulated by the FCC in your state, OTMR and self-help may be incredibly helpful tools to getting your network up and running faster—make sure this is discussed in an initial meetings with the pole owner if applicable!
4. A conciliatory approach to the pole attachments process
The pole attachments process is complicated when things go smoothly, but it can seem impossible when considering that pole owners see your new attachment as a threat to their grid and the existing communication facilities see your new attachment as competition. Your engineering contractor will advise how to overcome this, as well as what the rules can use to your advantage when the pole owner or other attachers are dragging their feet.
In our experience, throwing the rule book at the pole owner and other attachers should be your last resort, with the first being to set up a meeting with the pole owners and your engineering team to better understand the process and find ways to make the process as painless as possible. Remember, pole owners care about safety first, then the reliability of their distribution system—understanding these concerns and being committed to sound engineering and safe builds can go a long way.
5. Widespread community buy-in
Community support for the project is really important. Luckily, getting buy-in for faster, more reliable internet is really easy. Because connectivity is a rising tide that raises all ships (schools, businesses, families, farms, etc), it should be easy to tell the story of why the project matters to everyone.
Or it would be, except that it's not that simple. These projects typically start with a feasibility study, or a proof-of concept to connect a school or a small corridor through your county or town. It can be tough to explain to the community why some people are getting connected first and others aren't. Your network consulting team will provide valuable insight as to how you can control the narrative and be transparent with your community as the project is rolled out.
Thanks for reading! If you're looking to start a municipal broadband project in your town, contact Isaac at firstname.lastname@example.org and we'll help you get the ball rolling!