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Prioritizing Local Impact

I have this model in my head of how "internet for all" is going to happen over time. First, communication providers will build in the obvious places.

When I say obvious, I mean that there are so many potential customers, and the cost to deploy is so low that ROI isn't only a given; it's nearly immediate.

Once all those obvious places have reliable internet, those providers will start to serve the next-best ROI opportunities—and so on.

The first wave may connect one-third of Americans, and the second wave would capture one-sixth, the third would connect one-twelfth, etc. Slowly, and slice-by-slice, everyone would get connected.

Graph of connected poles over time passed
In theory, this correlation between ROI and customers served fosters a natural alignment with "internet for all," but in practice, I'm observing something different.

The Other Variables

There seem to be several prevalent reasons why reality doesn't match the graph I drew:

1) Leaps in technology
It feels like our demand for bandwidth and providers' ability to bring it to our homes are iterating faster than the natural spread of broadband to rural communities. This means that cities and suburbs might get several generations of internet upgrades (and perhaps several provider options) before more rural areas get one reliable option.

2) Competition
My graph assumes that communication providers have no incentive to deploy to communities where a competitor already provides service, but we're seeing that the ROI to compete is sometimes better than going somewhere unserved.

3) Cost to deploy
A lot of the areas that remain unserved or underserved by reliable internet are extremely expensive to serve. Communication providers aren't making a good business move to pursue those communities when they could make a better return elsewhere. This remains true in the most underserved communities, even when public capital is invested in the cause.

What can be done?

As our software for broadband deployment continues to grow and empower teams across the country, our engineering services team is excited to prioritize impactful work in our backyard.

It's frustrating to spend weeks designing a way for a fifth communication provider to bring superfluous service to an already congested pole line when you know that millions of people still lack reliable internet access.

Working locally is an enormous opportunity for staff to see the fruit of their labor—and to feel the impact of their work on people in their community. There's a natural alignment and feedback loop that can remind us that our work actually makes the world a better place.

As the dollars continue to flow from RDOF, BEAD, and other programs, here are two ways we think you can prioritize local impact of broadband deployment:

Local Government First
Allocating public dollars to municipalities lets states prioritize which communities they want to hit first. When you give money to a communications provider, they naturally target the regions with the best ROI. If local governments receive the funds, they can shop engineering vendors and communication providers instead.

Municipal-Built Infrastructure
Local governments don't have to solve the same ROI math that internet providers do—they just need to find a way to serve their surrounding community. By building out their own strand and conduit infrastructure, they can make agreements with communication providers to pull fiber and overlash, respectively, in their communities with agreed-upon maintenance and competition terms. This also limits the congestion on utility poles and results in a more safe and reliable electrical grid.

If you're looking to bring internet to underserved communities, we're here to help! Whether you're looking for software, engineering services, consulting, training, or a referral for a project in your footprint—give us a shout at 717-432-0716 or email hello@katapultengineering.com.

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