Broadband is a key factor in the economic development and vitality of communities all over the United States. As a result, many communities are seeking options to expand availability and adoption of robust, high-quality, and affordable broadband services for residents and businesses.
Public-private partnerships are one of the possible solutions. No partnership structure is exactly the same, but there are best practices that communities can consider before entering into a broadband partnership to maximize success.
Why Does Broadband Matter?
Broadband is a crucial component of any community’s economic development. It increases productivity in schools, healthcare facilities, public safety, and other functions, as well as reducing costs.
Citizens and businesses benefit by gaining access to information and services. It’s not only a driver in investment and job creation, but connectivity has potential to transform industries – from agriculture to travel to education.
Public-private broadband partnerships are a viable solution to broadband deployment. Communities may enter into these partnerships for many reasons.
For example, rural communities may be faced with cost-prohibitive deployment with a low population or challenging terrain. A partnership can be used to address these challenges by sharing costs and increasing revenue potential.
Communities may also seek partnerships for high-speed, affordable broadband solutions for community facilities like schools and libraries. These facilities benefit from a lower cost of ownership over the long term.
Local, state, and federal funding may be available to support broadband efforts, but it’s not usually enough to support a project’s entire costs. Partnerships with commercial operators can bridge the gap between government funding and bring expertise on technical issues.
An effective partnership distributes risks and costs related to the capital investment, adoption hurdles, and execution challenges.
Public-Private Partnerships and Broadband Adoption
If increasing broadband adoption is an important goal for a community, partners should develop an adoption plan at the start of the project, not once a network is under construction. These are the keys to success:
- Digital inclusion: Helping citizens get online is a challenge that requires a multifaceted approach. Each community will have different needs and assets, and communities should engage with a range of stakeholders to understand where there are hurdles and develop solutions to address them.
- Adoption plan: Developing an adoption plan and integrating the goals into it should happen at the start of the project, not once the network is built. This allows the project to be tailored to the necessary solutions – not a one-size-fits-all approach.
- Private sector partners: These partners can be used to improve training, increase public awareness, and offer discounted broadband solutions.
- Public assets: Leveraging assets like schools, libraries, websites, and workforce centers helps broadband adoption become more widespread and accepted among the community’s residents.
- Local organizations: Trusted local organizations like youth centers, community centers, and other grassroots organizations are essential to reaching underserved populations. Partnerships with these groups may be beneficial for ensuring that the broadband services reach the communities that need it most.
- Small businesses: Most small businesses will benefit from broadband, but they may need assistance to increase broadband adoption.
- Low-income citizens: These citizens will not only need the service, but they will need affordable training and public access initiatives to increase adoption of broadband.
How to Create a Public-Private Partnership
Variations in government structures, private sector firms, state laws, local conditions, and more bring unique circumstances for broadband deployment. Communities should always start with a planning process with key stakeholders. Identify the communities that need broadband and consult with businesses, residents, government leaders, community institutions, and more.
In this plan, consider:
- Broadband network requirements
- Community goals
- Existing and planned assets and services
- Current gaps in speed, pricing, and capability
- Feasibility studies
Create a Business Case and Financial Plan
A business case uses the information from the planning phase to develop a business case and financial model. The community should focus on the goals identified and the knowledge of its assets and limitations.
If possible, communities should explore all possible funding sources for infrastructure or adoption projects, including state, federal, and foundation grants, tax deferment and reduction, and low-interest loans.
A partners’ technical expertise in deploying, operating, and maintaining networks are critical to success. Partnerships should elevate each party’s ability in construction, operations, and adoption.
If there’s not already a partner or broadband provider, communities should determine which activities it can handle itself and which ones should be allocated to partners. Some of these considerations may include:
- Retail and wholesale sales
- Customer support
- Response and repair
- Design and engineering
- Project management
Broadband Grant Management with GrantWorks
GrantWorks has an entire department dedicated to the management and oversight of broadband grants for state, local, and tribal governments. We deliver specialized grant management skills to simplify the complexity of broadband grants and deployment. Contact us today to learn more!