Why you should launch a “planning” program as well as a “mapping” one
In the rush to apply for mapping grants, states should not forget the opportunity to leverage up to $500,000 of federal stimulus funds for broadband planning. So, if you are about to submit to the NTIA a broadband mapping proposal for your state, we urge you to take the parallel step of launching a planning program too.
That planning program should aim to organize the most efficient way to help your state’s businesses and communities overcome the barriers to adopting BEST practices – hence reaping their benefits of their broadband effort.
Because it’s worth remembering that the real value of broadband is not only measured by availability, speed or price — though all of these are important enabling factors. Rather, that value is most directly tied to the benefits of broadband connectivity combined with e-Solutions – an e-Solution being “a way to do what we’ve already doing, only better thanks to the Internet”. Thanks to over 10 years of hands-on experience, we know that the winning equation for the country must be: “broadband connectivity + e-Solutions = self-sustaining stimulus.”
And we also know that the key to maximizing broadband and e-Solutions benefits is to develop a “combined understanding” of both barriers to adoption and use and BEST (broadband e-Solutions transformative) practices, and an ongoing involvement of teams and people on the ground, in our communities, businesses and organizations. Achieving that requires solid planning!
As noted above, up to $500,000 is available to each state mapping project to support such planning activities.
But to take advantage of this federal support for broadband planning, states need to submit a planning proposal and budget along with their mapping proposal. And they need to do so by NTIA’s August 14 deadline. Because if they don’t, the $500,000 available for planning effectively disappears for their state. So, don’t miss it. In our view, decision makers in every state should take advantage of this opportunity to set a course toward “self-sustaining stimulus.”
Do you need help?
For states concerned about how to come up with the 20% matching funds, we suggest careful consideration of ways to cover some, or all, of this amount through in-kind contributions. According to the NOFA, these can include “employee or volunteer services; equipment; supplies; indirect costs; computer hardware and software; use of facilities; [and] expenditures for existing programs presented as part of the [planning] project proposal.” Based on our experience, there’s a lot of value that can be derived from these forms of in-kind contribution.
Also, to help communities understand and plan the move up the BEST practices learning curve, we’ve developed tools such as e-Solutions Benchmarking (to establish a baseline and direction for planning investments in broadband infrastructure and sustainable adoption programs) and Evaluation and Adoption Analytics (to help evaluate the impacts of these investments and adjust plans and strategies based on clear and measurable evidence).
By Michael Curri – Broadband networks can create a “platform for productivity, competitiveness and innovation” in your community – delivering the infrastructure to capture economic and social opportunities, some known, some yet to be invented. Many communities fail during the broadband strategy, build-out and adoption phases as they lack focus and/or sufficient investment of time, energy, and resources.
Too often communities develop strategies based on following recipes from other regions. Instead of uncovering what the needed resources are, or how to leverage current efforts to best serve the specific and unique needs of the community, civic leaders race to “do what they did.”
There is no ‘one size fits all’ solution for successful broadband strategies that bring economic and civic benefits to a region and its citizens. Each community not only has different needs, but different strengths to best leverage the broadband platform. Strategic Networks Group (SNG) has for years been helping governments, at municipal, regional and national levels, to best understand where investment will make the biggest impact – and each and every time the best approach involves following the Broadband Lifecycle, or path to owning your digital future.
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By Michael Curri
Much too often broadband initiatives that should be successful end up falling flat – for a myriad reasons. Perhaps they do not get off the ground because of a lack of vision, planning, or leadership. Many fail during the strategy and build-out process as they lack focus and/or sufficient investment of time, energy, and resources. Some initiatives may have been successful building the network but fail because they are simply taking a “we built it – you use it” approach and not driving applications and adoption. And even the most successful broadband projects, with ample utilization and economic and social impact can be perceived as a failure if the outcomes are not measured and reported.
It is for all of these reasons that SNG encourages its customers (and all broadband project managers for that matter!) to design and run their broadband initiative with “one eye on the Broadband Lifecycle.” In this issue of Bandwidth, and the next two, we will be taking a look at 2 of the 6 steps of the Broadband Lifecycle. In this issue: step 1 (identifying gaps, needs, and demand) and step 2 (pre-planning and assessment).
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By Doug Adams
Now that you have funding, how can you make sure that your project lives up to the promise that got it funded in the first place? Hundreds of broadband projects are being funded in 2010 – be it from Stimulus or some other funding source – but how many will truly become a community asset that drives economic and social benefits?
Key to making sure your project will have a return on investment with quantifiable outcomes starts with these four guidelines:
- Don’t focus on engineering: it’s all about awareness and adoption;
- Use data to drive decisions before, during, and after the project;
- Create a “platform for innovation”: investing in broadband is NOT just about the financials;
- Frame the benefits, measure them, and promote.
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