Craig Settles

Municipal Wireless: Making the Case for Wireless/Wired Hybrid Infrastructure

[Commentary] Despite the fact that AT&T and Verizon stores are abundant in many neighborhoods, it doesn’t take much to show that large incumbents do not adequately serve urban communities. Many cities build better, faster, cheaper networks and offer better customer service. And Google's recent news about its move into the wireless world highlights how Google, municipalities and others can bring stronger competition to incumbents. Whether a community network’s customers are individuals, companies or organizations, give them gigabit wired or wireless, and they will be happier, more productive users.

Combination of Need, Cost and Innovations Are Rekindling the Muni Wireless Dream

[Commentary] Many are surprised by the news that Google is delaying some of its municipal fiber builds -- and speculation is building that the company is quietly upping its wireless game. Those who've watched the municipal broadband space since the muni Wi-Fi days, however, aren't likely to be surprised by this. The reason? In 2004, Philadelphia's dream of building a citywide public Wi-Fi network captivated the country and started a wave of frenzied press releases and mayoral proclamations, and a handful of network buildouts. But alas, all went for naught. Lately, however, a combination of need, cost and innovation is rekindling the dream. It seems our industry forgets that individuals, businesses and organizations don’t care very much if Internet access arrives wirelessly or by wired connection as long as it is fast, reliable, secure and affordable. Hybrid networks have a seat at the broadband table. Deal 'em in.

[Craig Settles assists communities with developing their broadband business and marketing plans, and help communities raise money for broadband projects]

Urban Communities Need Better Broadband Too!

This report 1) explains how inadequate competition cripples urban broadband, 2) outlines the needs for gigabit speed and capacity in urban settings; 3) highlights why digital inclusion is an imperative; and 4) offers recommendations to maximize urban broadband.

States, stand down! Let community broadband innovate.

[Commentary] Creating “Smart Cities” is a concept taking hold in rural and urban communities. An IDC report states these are cities investing in technology such as broadband networks and analytics software to enable people to be more productive, use city infrastructure more efficiently, and receive better government services.

Innovation for them is defined by quality of life improvements that attract and retain individuals and businesses while making a positive impact on local government budgets. Another type of innovation that’s drawing people to fight states’ intrusion into local broadband decisions is creating new innovative companies. Broadband advocates expect the drive to prevent state intrusion into local decisions to increase.

[Settles is a consultant who helps organizations develop broadband strategies ]

Mr. Wheeler, tear down these walls: The economic case for removing barriers to muni broadband

[Commentary] Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler clearly wants to protect communities from state intrusion by having the legislative barriers to public-owned networks in 19 states removed or heavily curtailed.

Those who see high-speed internet services strengthening local economies, transforming medical and healthcare delivery, improving education and increasing local government efficiency agree with him.

[Settles works with Gigabit Nation]

Can telemedicine help communities justify better broadband?

[Commentary] Telemedicine -- using telecommunications to enhance medical and healthcare delivery -- is lauded for advancing the public good, improving the quality of life and transforming the patient/doctor relationship for the betterment of both.

Broadband-driven telemedicine also impacts economic development.

But are communities prepared to ride this particular technology wave to better economic health? The International Economic Development Council (IEDC) indicated in a survey that 43 percent of its members think broadband-enabled medical and healthcare services are a primary economic issue for them. And 28 percent see these services indirectly impacting their local economy.

Contrary to conventional wisdom that rural communities have the greater need for telemedicine services, survey results show urban and suburban communities are just as likely rural ones to place high economic value on telemedicine. But only in a third of the cases do respondents say their communities’ current available broadband speeds are sufficient to attract new physicians, enable video-delivered health services and attract medical research projects.

Similar percentages say the current service is adequate, but could be better, indicating that these speeds will be less useful as telemedicine apps increase in number and capacity requirements.

[Settles is a consultant who helps organizations develop broadband strategies, host of radio talk show Gigabit Nation and a broadband industry analyst]

Maybe you don’t need a gig. Wireless might bridge the broadband gap

[Commentary] Not every community needs a fiber-to-the-home network. Not every home needs a gig to their doorstep.

In our gigabit crazy era this statement might seem like a step backward, but take note that there’s more than one option for delivering the speed consumers and businesses need. Even Google is hinting that some form of wireless might become part of its goodie bag of services. When people fixate on one technology to the exclusion of all else the people governing cities can make wrong choices that hurt or hinder communities’ ability to fully benefit from broadband.

When investing in technology, users’ needs should dictate technology choices, not media hype. Two other recent broadband developments indicate some broadband decision makers should step back for a minute and re-assess their options.

RST, a new regional ISP, announced it had quietly built and acquired a 3,100-mile 100-gig fiber middle mile infrastructure throughout the state of North Carolina. However, it plans to deliver a 1-gigabit last mile service there and in South Carolina, mostly using Wi-Fi with fiber options available on demand.

In Utah, home security and automation company Vivint threw its hat into the gigabit ring with plans to connect Utah homes wirelessly using gigabit Wi-Fi on rooftops to create a high-capacity mesh network built on customers’ rooftops. But every community is different in terms of demographics, broadband needs, geography, etc.

The lesson people should take from RST and Vivint is that a thorough, objective evaluation of all available technologies is in their best short-term and long-term financial interests. For example, wireless last mile networks can meet peoples’ needs now, then become backup for fiber network later.

[Settles is a consultant who helps organizations develop broadband strategies, host of radio talk show Gigabit Nation]

Gigabit lesson No. 1: Partner in haste, repent at leisure

[Commentary] First Google offers to build a lucky city a gigabit network. Now new companies are arriving with similar offers. As these offers excite communities nationwide, many may not realize they are on the verge of repeating errors that doomed cities’ muni Wi-Fi dreams in 2007.

There is little doubt Kansas City has reaped many rewards from its deal with Google, and 34 cities are potentially Google Fiber beneficiaries. International investment bank Macquarie Capital is in deep negotiations for a partnership deal with 11 cities in Utah. C-Spire, a private communications company, just announced a fiber partnership with four Mississippi communities.

This recent spate of high-profile deals may look too good to pass up, but there is an eerie similarity to events leading to the muni Wi-Fi fiasco. As current media coverage drives hype about angels swooping in to bring gigabit networks to cities in need, communities need to heed a lesson from the municipal Wi-Fi days. Fortunately, the companies offering deals now are well capitalized. But to maximize the benefits these investors bring, individuals, local companies and community leaders must think smarter, plan better and negotiate more effectively than their predecessors. They also need a far better understanding of the technologies involved.

[Settles is host of radio talk show Gigabit Nation]