The process to decide if a fiber build out makes sense for your community starts long before the first fiber is attached to a pole or laid into conduit. In fact, it typically starts months, if not years before (so if you haven't started thinking about it, you really need to). In an effort to help communities start we came up with a simple image that helps people visualize the process and start thinking about the different phases, roles and questions they may have. I have seen simpler versions of this chart and more complex, the goal here to to start discussing what is right for your community or region.
Throughout our site we have tried to give pertinent and diverse examples of how communities are tackling this issue. The good news is that there isn't one correct example....there are many factors that influence what communities select. Being well informed is just the first step.
Stage 1: Vision Creation: It all starts with a clear long term vision. What are the goals in bringing broadband into a community? What questions are most important and relevant? Affordability? Availability? Economic Development? Competition? Service Quality? These are all questions that will impact and influence every phase and facet moving forward. Just in the time you have read these words, your mind is probably racing with questions. Which leads to a key element, having a Broadband Plan. The plan doesn't have to be elaborate and certainly won't require your community to spend thousands of dollars on a consultant, but at least a group of community leaders should discuss long and short term goals and objectives and put those on paper. In many communities we have visited with, this process is already underway either formally or informally, via citizen groups.
Stage 2: Raise Awareness and Organize Demand: End user engagement generates momentum and drives responsiveness of investors and service providers. This is a process that cannot happen in a vacuum as it impacts the entire community and will have long term implications, the life of this fiber is 25-50 years or longer. Much like building a bridge in your community which dictates traffic patterns and usage, building fiber will impact every aspect of your region. OpenCape has taken the initial lead ( via a grant from the Cape Cod Economic Development Council) in helping communities clarify the demand and desire for fiber in their communities. Via our CrowdFiber Tool, individuals and businesses can voice their desire to have access to the OpenCape network. So what does this mean for Communities?
Stage 3: Network Planning: You need a solid business plan, feasibility study, data and a plan for approaching investors. Have you made your community as Fiber friendly as you could have? Have you reviewed and eased restrictions? Do you have a "Dig Once" policy in your town? Are you laying conduit when roads and sidewalks are open? Have you reviewed rights of way issues, etc.
Stage 4: Secure Funding: Community broadband funding can come from a variety of sources including, public, private investors, philanthropy or any combination of these. The key is finding funding models that align with the goals of your community. One example we can point you to is Leverett, MA which recently completed a community wide Fiber build out. (read more here) Another resource is a recent article from Broadband Communities Magazine geared specifically to funding options (read here)
Stage 5: Deployment: The Network infrastructure and the labor associated with the construction will amount for the lion's share of the coast to build the Network. Fiber is the most effective way of delivering bandwidth ever devised. A single fiber strand can carry 200 or more wavelengths of 40 gigabits each, enough to feed a whole community. But while fiber proves quite economical for city-wide demand, it's harder to make it cost-effective when you apply it to smaller collections of users, especially down to individual households. That is why selecting the right partners is critical and thinking beyond just the build to service and maintenance are critical factors too.
Stage 6: Operate & Maintain: The ongoing Operation and Maintenance of the Network is critical to it's success and long term viability. There are multiple models of ownership and the communities long term vision for the Network must inform this decision. Read more