We don’t have the broadband we need – will the private sector solve our broadband problem? What steps do we take?
“We know we have areas that remain unserved or underserved because there is not enough of a business case for private-sector ISPs to build there, or they would have done so already. What we need to know now is the size of the problem, delineate where the gaps are, and assess broadband needs.
Only then can we discuss options with internet service providers and choose the right path for our needs.”
Many localities know they have a broadband problem, but struggle to find a path forward – especially when potentially large investments are needed. SNG’s Broadband Technical Opportunities Roadmap helps localities answer the key questions on how to solve their broadband needs:
- Where are the broadband gaps and where are the greatest needs in our locality?
- How is the lack of broadband affecting our businesses and residents?
- What technologies make sense to address our broadband gaps? What investments are needed?
- Will our broadband problem be solved by the private sector service providers? Are there areas of interest and opportunity for private sector providers for accelerating network build-out to our unserved and underserved areas?
- Based on identified broadband gaps and needs, potential for accelerating private sector build-out – what is the roadmap for potential broadband projects?
Answering these questions empowers localities to develop their own strategies and effectively engage with service providers and other partners to take action. There is a choice to be made – either pro-actively work with private sector providers to serve your areas, or start down the path of building your own network and undertaking a broadband feasibility study. Many localities have difficulties making a decision because:
- Broadband is not part of their current mandate
- Belief (hope) that private sector providers will “solve our broadband problems”
- A broadband investment is not worth it based on a traditional business case
- There is not enough of an evidence base to make a decision and stand behind it
SNG builds the necessary data, evidence, and insights to help localities understand their choices and make the right decision for their needs.
Broadband for All – Addressing the Digital Divide
The lack of sufficient broadband infrastructure, especially in rural areas, is primarily due to commercial market failure from the lack of subscriber density necessary to make the business case for private sector service providers. Service providers are also focusing their infrastructure investments on large urban markets where return on investments is highest. This is true for many rural areas in countless jurisdictions.
Digital divides continue and are widening with dense urban populations being increasingly served with optical fiber, coaxial cable, and ultra-high-speed wireless technologies offering multi-megabit and gigabit services. However, the more sparsely populated rural areas are limited to connectivity through lower speed technologies, such as fixed and mobile wireless or DSL. Where there is not enough of a business case (profit-based incentives) for incumbent high-speed broadband providers to extend their services far into the rural areas – the “spaces between the places” remain unserved, underserved, or overcharged.
Where service providers are investing in broadband infrastructure, they are building-out incrementally from the more populated areas of rural areas adjacent to existing broadband technology footprints. This is often prompted by the opportunity to obtain government grants to offset a portion the capital costs. This approach makes sense for incumbent service providers since it minimizes their costs of construction while gaining customers in the higher density rural areas. Unfortunately, while this incremental approach brings broadband to more households and businesses, it addresses a relatively small portion of the broadband gaps. Furthermore, as these adjacent areas are served, the unserved areas that remain are even less profitable for later investment.
The Broadband Challenges for Localities
Exacerbating this ongoing digital divide, the COVID-19 pandemic is increasing demands for broadband from households and businesses in a number of ways:
- Remote/online education – Schools are already expecting online access by students for homework assignments and research. With COVID students are now also required to attend online classes with video streaming services, at least part of the time.
- Work-from-home – There is already a high percentage of household members who telecommute or operate a home-based business. Teleworking is increasing with COVID both for health safety reasons to avoid congregation at business location, but also for parents who need to work while managing their family needs for at-home schooling.
- Telehealth – Those with ongoing health issues as well as seniors need to avoid going out unless it is essential. Access to at-home telehealth services, such as online consultations with medical professionals, is even more essential with COVID.
- Moving online – More businesses are moving sales activities increasingly online during COVID, including those traditionally reliant on foot traffic to brick-and-mortar locations. Providing the ability to order online for delivery or pick-up is a matter of survival for some businesses.
- Protecting employees – Businesses are implementing more work-at-home policies and technologies to enable employees to continue working effectively from home, maintain business operations while reducing the risk of contracting COVID from workplace interactions.
The challenges for providing minimum 50/10 Mbps broadband services in rural markets are well known. The demands for high-speed broadband are also well known, as are the additional demands on connectivity as a consequence of COVID-19.
Broadband Technical Opportunities Roadmap
The purpose of the roadmap is to identify opportunities and alternatives to ensure that at least 50/10 broadband is available to all rural residences, businesses, and farms, leading to actions for collaborative solutions. The Broadband Technical Opportunities Roadmap will identify how internet service providers (private, co-op, etc.) may accelerate the attainment of higher speed services – typically at least 50/10 Mbps, or speeds of 100/100 Mbps and above with robust reliability (what we at SNG call future ready broadband) – to residences, farms, organizations, and businesses.
The broadband technical opportunities research and analysis examines your specific market(s) in terms of populations, market demand, and available broadband services. Consultations with stakeholders in your area will quantify service gaps and reveal broadband market demand (current and potential). Consultations with incumbents and other internet service providers (ISPs) will explore the opportunity to address the current service gaps in your area, as well as issues and barriers to solutions. SNG will provide a synthesis of this analysis to identify potential solutions of at least 50/10 Mbps based on the broadband technology and funding options available.
The Broadband Technical Opportunities Roadmap will better enable localities to:
- prepare for future funding applications and other opportunities
- prepare for future potential coordination with public partners and private sector investors to help accelerate the achievement of at least 50/10 Mbps basic internet service across unserved and underserved areas, as well as the potential for 100/100 Mbps or faster service
Localities are empowered with knowledge and insights about the challenges and opportunities for addressing broadband gaps in their rural areas.
Included in the Broadband Technical Opportunities Roadmap are:
- Needs Analysis – Characterize populations of target areas, quantify service gaps, engage with local stakeholders and service providers on needs and opportunities.
- Technology Mapping – Map existing and planned wireline facilities, identify existing towers, potential sites for new towers, and coverage analysis.
- Roadmap Options – Prioritize which technologies are most appropriate for target areas, identify a logical sequence for deployment, assess costs of options and benefits to communities.
- Funding Analysis – Assess options and costs for fit to existing government funding programs as well as alternative public/private funding options.
The roadmap findings and recommendations are delivered through a report with associated maps.