What Drives Rural Broadband Success?

Screen Shot 2013-04-05 at 12.55.14 PMA key element of a Rural Broadband Communications Strategy – for the Islands beyond economics – that is, cheaper and faster Internet is political and cultural. Today, no one polled in SJI BST can remember 3 things the candidates for San Juan County office promise to do if elected.

Why? poor communications, poor retention, poor engagement, indifference? What do you think? What can a good communications strategy include? Of course applications of the communications network that are crucial to the community.

And those should be funded, have realistic targets, such as *membership numbers* for those groups, and real, consistent operations for *years*.

What are those? I can tell you as the leader of the largest communications network group in San Juan County. Its one-to-one and one to many, structured, civil, vetted, participation in the economic development.

Its not done in back rooms some where, and ‘rolled out’ to Islanders after $700,000 in consulting money is spent. Its done in front of everyone, and the only rule is to be kind to individuals, respectful of individuals. You don’t need to be respectful of organizations, corporations, co-operatives, ideas, concepts, plans. They are not people, much as the Supreme Court might suggest they are.

So, about 5,000 Islanders agree, that’s the way it works. and it works for them every day of the week, without bigger broadband pipes, or better something, whatever, opalco is selling.

I’d challenge anyone to produce a network of Islanders dedicated to improved economics, open discussion and spin offs groups, more engaged with more people. I’ve laid that challenge out many times and 4 years later, no one has succeeded. Its been my deep hope someone would. There’s nothing really much more boring, tedious, rewardless financially than moderating a group of 3,000 people to assure the membership works for the majority of members.

So aside from a couple of asses that complain about how everyone else is getting attention and do nothing themselves on a regular basis to move island economics forward on a broad basis, aside from them, what is the purpose of a communications network? Certainly it isn’t just pushing bits around on a wire or wirelessly and collecting money for it. Many twelve year olds can accomplish that today and does.

The real use of a network is described by *how* real life examples of real life benefits are achieved, in analogous communities. Not, its telemeds, or its tele-learn or its streaming netflix, or whatever, and that’s cheaper today than the other guy. Tomorrow the other guy with much deeper pockets is going to get pissed and offer something to compete on the speed and price. To win in that area, you need to use the unfair advantage Islanders’ have – ownership of the fiber network, and then put that unfair advantage to work to build *value* propositions that are easily recognized, that the competition can’t meet.

ATT can meet 4G/LTE speeds in the Islands and told me they’d have it here by the end of 2014. Sure, only 30% of Islanders might buy that. But LTE/4G is coming out on T-Mobile’s network without a contract, and with unlimited usage, for less, so ATT may be forced to meet that speed and price.

In all cases wireless has a deep risk as a market solution because of competition, speeds, the fundamental technology and shifting regulatory conditions – white spaces could be offered here soon for example. Who needs 4G/LTE if 4 towers running broadband over tv white space channels are deployed?

The only real solution is fiber to the home. The only real Application of a Community network is to open it up to competitors for Apps, Energy Management, real tele-medicine, real tele-learning, real government interaction, and real measurements. Without real measurements defined with the purpose of verifying the goals of a new network, and constantly changing and adjusting it to meet those needs, the real value of the network is weak. San Juan Islands Buy, Sell, Trade does that daily. When enough members are interested in a particular direction, a group can be spun off. The SJI Garden and Seed group is like that. So is the Diet and Exercise, and Local Government page. Talent Pool was too. Thankfully, Grace stepped up and launched the Pet’s group.

These can be, like SJI BST – 40-50 hour per month time stretches. Answering questions, checking issues, stopping fights, initiating new members, vetting applications for membership, picking through new topics that have broad support and merit. It becomes a full time job on some weeks, leaving real paying work on the back burner too often.

Without identifying real money for real competition on this proposed network, and making 95% fiber and 5% wireless, the plan sinks. SJI Buy, Sell, Trade and the many spin off groups demonstrate what’s possible, popular and produces economic and social activity that benefits many, and its easy to measure. 150 ad postings a day from a pool of 3150 Islanders. Some days, 500 postings or more. New business launches, saved existing businesses, great turn outs for events.

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