Building broadband facilities in rural areas requires many resources, not the least of which is experience. As internet providers apply for loans and grants through the $600 million eConnectivity (ReConnect) Pilot Program, partners with technical, economic and legal experience could make the application considerably stronger.
NRTC encourages, whenever possible, that our telephone and electric industry members collaborate on broadband projects. Between them they will have the technical knowledge, trust in the community and other resources that will give the project a good start. As NRTC CEO Tim Bryan recently noted at NRECA’s CEO Close-Up, there are electric/telco collaboration success stories in several states where “people are of like mind” joined together.
RUS is openly encouraging these sorts of collaborations, as well as partnerships with local governments, to reach more consumers and reduce business risks. Others in the community that potentially could join a broadband project include cable TV providers, wireless internet service providers (WISPs), cable providers, backbone and carrier ethernet providers and cloud providers. The application should clearly explain each party’s responsibilities.
Remember, collaboration can be something as simple as a fiber swap; granting tower, pole, or rights of way access; or outsourcing billing, engineering, or marketing work. In some cases, it could include establishing a joint company, or more. It all depends on your local needs and conditions. There is no one-size-fits-all approach.
If you choose not to enter a collaboration, you should still seek partners to help accomplish specific, necessary tasks.
Assess Potential Application Preparation Partners. There are a lot of aspects to the ReConnect application, including technical, business and mapping. Consider getting some outside help for one or more of these areas, in addition to keeping the application process itself on track.
Assess Potential Partners to Set Technical Specs, Engineering Plans, and Anticipate Environmental/Historical Requirements. Applicants must submit network design plans showing how each household in a Proposed Funding Service Area (PFSA) will have access to broadband. The program is technology-neutral; the thing RUS will look for is the ability to deliver 25 Mbps downstream/3 Mbps upstream service to each household. A licensed Professional Engineer (PE) must certify the technical feasibility of an applicant’s design. Applicants will also need to document compliance with:
- the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA),
- the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA) and
- the Endangered Species Act (ESA).
Assess Potential Partners to Help Forecast a Sustainable Five-Year Business Plan. Applicants must submit a detailed business plan, including funding sources, supporting assumptions and subscriber projections. It may be worth considering additional broadband-enabled services that can diversify revenue and improve the bottom line, such as voice, video, managed Wi-Fi, and internet of things applications like smart grid, smart agriculture and smart home.
Assess Potential Partners to Craft Service Areas Using GIS and the RUS Mapping Tool. The RUS Mapping Tool is a key component of the ReConnect program. Applicants should use the tool to identify rural areas where fixed terrestrial 10/1 service is not available. Areas do not need to align with census tracks. They can even cross state lines. Eligible areas need not be contiguous, but they can surround ineligible areas.
These tasks and others are the kinds of assistance NRTC Broadband Development can provide to NRTC members. We have staff with experience to help you through the application process, feasibility studies, network construction and operation. We would be happy to answer any questions about rural broadband projects and the Reconnect process. Call your regional business manager or leave a note for me on our Contact page.
Eric Freesmeier is president, NRTC Broadband Development.