We are sometimes asked how we compare to other marketing tools like Constant Contact or MailChimp. Let’s be honest. These email marketing tools have been leaders in digital marketing. MailChimp is a neighbor company and an inspiration to us in creativity and focus. These companies have built phenomenal products which satisfy the needs of many businesses. CrowdFiber, in comparison, was built from the ground up to meet the needs and demands of utility and telecommunications businesses. Here’s a breakdown of the differences in features and approach.
Marketing Feature Comparison
Constant Contact and MailChimp specialize in email marketing. They provide the code to pop a signup form on a website to collect email addresses. They can segment the email lists, provide templates to build email campaigns and track responsiveness to those emails. Their template marketplace is brimming with ideas and the email editor includes a visual builder.
Crowdfiber does all of that, and more, adding to that additional services such as: address search widget, custom registration workflows based on geography & market, survey, targeted updates, plus a full address discovery and order management suite of tools.
We’ll admit, we don’t yet have a template marketplace or visual builder, and we only offer one pre-built template to start. However, our platform is completely themeable and you have access to create your own templates stylesheets. You can even design an email in another tool, and copy that right over to our system for use alongside our other benefits.
As with all areas where we know we can improve, we’ll build these features the way we do all of them: uniquely geared to meet the needs of telecom industry based on the requests and input from our customers.
Reports & Data
Constant Contact and MailChimp provide both real-time tracking and reports of email opens and clicks and basic statistics on your list performance over time. In addition, they offer A/B content testing where multiple subject lines can be configured and the “winner” after a certain portion of the list is sent will be sent to the remaining list. MailChimp is the clear winner on A/B testing.
In addition to tracking email opens and clicks, CrowdFiber discovers actual street addresses and parcels within your defined territories or areas. CrowdFiber tools deduplicate and clean up bad data, validate addresses and ensure postal deliverability so no resources or efforts are wasted.
Customers use CrowdFiber zone and map tools to track both address searches (leads) as well as registrations or orders for service. Telecom service providers utilize CrowdFiber to identify and nurture area “champions” who assist with digital and real world referral marketing to neighbors. CrowdFiber provides the tools to track actual take rates, market penetration, and establish and work towards goals internally or transparently to members or customers. Filters for email deliverability exist alongside dozens of other geographic and behavioral variables for future marketing and sales follow-up activities.
While large sets of emails may be sent occasionally, we’ve found that the most effective emailing is targeted to specific geographic territories and therefore customized for the reader beyond what standard A/B testing would accommodate. Our highest performing campaigns are delivering email communication on average every 10-14 days.
Direct mail and print materials
Rural telecom providers have additional challenges to being discovered. Due to the realities of rural broadband networks, email and social media are often not the best ways to increase sales or build subscribers. CrowdFiber has a direct mail management system so that you can upload your creative for a postcard or letter, select your desired list, and click to send. All printing and postage are included in the flat rate unit costs. Address lists can be targeted by more than 20 filters including those addresses which were searched but not yet registered for service.
MailChimp has just launched a direct mail service. It does feature beautiful templates and an HTML builder, but list building is restricted to what is imported to the system or integrated with a third-party application.
Broadband Orders and pre-registrations
Crowdfiber acts as an interactive extension of your business to your customers. In addition to email marketing, you can build out highly personalized and tailored experiences for your users that allow you to compete more effectively, collect orders or expressions of interest around the clock, and automate some critical steps in the subscriber journey.
Crowdfiber acts as an interactive extension of your business to your customers. In addition to email marketing, you can build out highly personalized and tailored experiences for your users that allow you to compete more effectively, collect orders or expressions of interest around the clock, and automate some critical steps in the subscriber journey.
Bundle builder – so your clients can select the products and services they need while benefiting from any discounts, bundles, required add-ons, or upsells that you might want to offer.
Rules-driven Agreements and PDF form templates – Based on product and market (residential, commercial, etc) selection, CrowdFiber will assemble agreements according to rules you set. You can use CrowdFiber to create document templates that will automatically be filled with any information gathered during sign-up and collect other specific information needed for provisioning.
Legally Binding Signatures – no unnecessary delays with the implementation of e-signatures with contracts. Customer interest can be collected, order signed, and ready for billing and provisioning on the same day. And for those broadband service providers who send out signature requests after an order has been submitted (for example, a pre-registration area moving into construction), we see on average 50% signature completion rate based on the first email request alone, and 80% following first reminder email.
If you are using Constant Contact or MailChimp for collecting interest, you will need to solve geocoding, online ordering of (sometimes complicated) product structures, and document signing through additional vendors or methods.
Business-to-business telecom sales
Telecom and broadband providers have to meet the demands of being both a consumer and business service provider (and many may do more of one than the other). We’ve found that great telecom sales systems need to provide tailored experiences to business or enterprise subscribers which may include specialized bundles, quoting, sales rep management, deal tracking, and sales funnel visualization. These are all areas where CrowdFiber provides integrated solutions.
Constant Contact and MailChimp can provide list segmentation and welcome emails tailored by specific sign-up fields. However, these systems are meant to work in partnership with a fully-featured CRM or sales platform when it comes to B2B engagement.
Constant Contact has a robust social media management component. MailChimp allows for integration and automated posting of emails.
While social media management is not an area of focus for CrowdFiber, we do provide the basic sharing links for subscribers along with basic tracking of those shares. In addition, service providers can add any Google tags or Facebook pixels for retargeting of ads and integrated analytics.
Constant Contact and MailChimp are fantastic email marketing platforms for general businesses, freelancers, and entrepreneurs. Heck, our staff have used these products in past work and a few very loyal customers of ours use both platforms (it’s your data after all!)
However, there is one key difference that we believe makes all the difference. CrowdFiber exists exclusively for broadband service providers and utilities. Our founders bring serious industry expertise and decades of work as engineering, business, and marketing consultants. Customers like you have driven its development and we update the platform every week with features that routinely get giggles and tears and consistently reported time-savings, business improvement, and customer happiness.
Is there an email marketing feature you are crazy passionate about? Let us know!
Otherwise, schedule a demo if you want to see how CrowdFiber compares for yourself!
From Facebook to Instagram and Snapchat, every platform is moving to support and encourage livestreaming video. In fact, Nicola Mendelsohn, Facebook’s VP of Europe, told a conference audience recently that within five years, Facebook “will be probably all video“. If video is the best way to tell stories, broadband marketers should consider how to include livestreaming in their marketing and communications strategy.
verb: to broadcast (an event) on the internet as it happens
noun: a live broadcast of an event on the internet
According to AP tweet, the words “livestream” and “livestreaming” are included in the 2017 edition of AP Style book. So, feel smart updating your spellchecker dictionary with this modern phrase.
Livestreaming brings marketing authenticity.
Livestream videos capture something as it’s happening, so they feel more real and trustworthy. They capture emotions, reactions and events as they are (for the most part), not as others want them to be shown. This has benefits from showing a more personal “off-stage” personality of a company or its team or providing a trusted first-hand experiential account from another customer. Capitalize on this behind-the-scenes aspect by hosting a Q&A about your network build. If your employees are helping out with a local community event, livestream to engage your audience and show how you are helping out.
Livestreaming gives new perspectives on broadband.
Although any camera that’s connected to the internet can produce a livestream, most are typically done with a smartphone. That means it’s much easier to get into places that larger news-style cameras can’t easily maneuver. This helps your customers see how they might use your broadband services to do more in their businesses.
Is the local high school using your broadband connection to stream a symphony concert or lecture? Give your members a first hand view of the most awesome things that your service makes possible.
Holding your annual meeting? Give your members a way to see behind the scenes as you setup or pick entertainment. You may drive greater attendance or at least reach some of those that can’t attend.
Or, if you are really wanting to try something new, challenge your members to share their own videos about the ways your service has made their lives better, or how they are using your service to make the world better.
There are some truths to video making that don’t really change. While most modern smartphones have all you need to livestream right away, here are a few tips that will help you make the most out of it.
1. Set your camera to the highest resolution possible. Nobody likes to watch videos that are low-quality and fuzzy. So, visit your camera settings and choose 1920×1080 if possible.
NOTE: this will create large files, so remember to offload images and videos quickly or change your settings back.
2. Make sure to turn your phone sideways to get a full screen video. Only apps like Instagram & Snapchat support video with the phone held straight.
We don’t have to tell a broadband marketer the need to check your upload speed. Just remember if you aren’t in your network headquarters on a blazingly fast fiber network, the wi-fi equipment where you are may slow down your mobile upload.
Make sure your upload speeds are good enough to support smooth video streaming prior to the event. There’s no greater way to lose an audience than with lagging and long pauses where there should be video. Use 4G if wi-fi isn’t stable. *or better yet use this as a sales moment with your customers and show them the value of an upgrade!
Great light doesn’t take a ton of money.Here’s a portable kit for under $100.
Good videos need good lighting and sound.
If possible, shoot the video outdoors during daylight hours to provide a crisper viewing experience. If not, make sure there is a source of light shining on the subject of your video as much as possible.
A steady camera makes for a happy audience. A tripod or handheld gimbal can smooth out some of the vibrations and let the viewer focus on the content. If you find yourself without these items, lean your arms against something solid (wall, table, etc) while you hold your device.
Add an external microphone if sound is going to play a part in the video. At a concert or while interviewing people, your audience will want to be able to understand what is being said. Because there’s no way to add captions until after the fact, a good microphone goes a long way.
Here’s a small mic under $60 that will reduce environmental noise and help bring sound into focus.
Livestreaming can help bring a new perspective to your customers. Show them a different side of your brand with the low-cost, high-reach approach of livestreaming. And make it count by integrating with direct mail, email, and social for maximum engagement and impact.
You probably spend a lot of time reading about marketing best practices, but after awhile the advice starts to blur together. What you need is the equivalent of an alarm that prevents you from doing any marketing moves that are hazardous to your organization’s health. By avoiding these multichannel marketing mistakes, you save time, money and a lot of frustration.
Ignoring Your Audience
Your marketing needs to speak to your target audience if you want them to pay attention to your messaging. Using images of people that don’t match their demographic, talking down to them or assuming they know what you know can quickly lose their interest. Stock images are great, but let’s face it, not every family is happy, blonde and in a spotless house. Review your imagery with a critical eye. Will it be relatable to the people viewing it?
You probably don’t have an endless marketing budget. Determine what an effective campaign looks like and regularly review your efforts to adjust as needed. Track key performance indicators and test different combinations of audience targeting. If the campaign fails, you have a lot of great data points on what to avoid in the future. The ones that succeed end up getting analyzed to determine why it worked so well. You end up fine-tuning your marketing campaign and making the most of your budget.
In a CrowdFiber campaign, these goals may include the overall number of backers or subscribers acquired. Or it may be reaching a zone goal by a certain date to drive construction. You may be most focused on increasing average revenue per user (ARPU). Identify these goals in advance, so that your budget can be analyzed for its effectiveness.
Your images can’t use a one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to its size. It might look great on your website, but when a promotional image goes out it could be cut off or otherwise distorted. For print, aim for 300 dpi or greater using a file type that carries the most data like .ai, .eps, or .pdf. On web and social channels, be mindful of transparency against a background. A .png is best for these images. Don’t let your message get lost. Make sure your marketing material is appropriate for each of your channels. A free tool that helps you get it right is Canva.com.
Going Nuts with Speeds and Fees
Your product might be the best in its category, making it the logical choice for your audience. However, the buyer’s journey doesn’t rely solely on the analytical side of the brain. You also need to appeal to the emotions of the buyer and make that strong connection. For example, you can talk about the ways your customers can spend more time with their family, thanks to the time-saving benefits of your products, rather than just speeds and fees. Avoid using too much “industry speak”. Megabits, Gigabits, 4G, Wifi, Hotspot, IP, Max, Extra… these terms can get easily mixed up by customers, so make your telecom product names simple and straightforward. Use the same conventions to describe each product and provide an example of who the product is a good fit for so that customers can choose by their use case, not just the specs.
*Bonus points if you describe who the product is NOT good for. Help your customer know what won’t work for them, so that they are led to a choice that they will bring satisfaction.
Now that you know to avoid these marketing mistakes, what are your next steps? Regular, relevant content is king for driving real engagement with your audience. Post updates, link to educational articles, coordinate your email and direct mail with your social campaigns. You create value and an ongoing relationship with potential customers, long after they make a purchase decision. This strategy increases conversion and decreases churn, allowing you to build a foundation for long-term business growth.
Using postcards to market services is nothing new. This form of direct mail advertising has long served as one of the best ways to precisely target the customers you want. For telecom service providers trying to drum up business in smaller markets and rural areas where connectivity concerns can make web marketing channels more limited, it becomes an even more critical component of a successful campaign. To be successful, though, you’ll have to stay ahead of the curve while combining creativity and personalization to yield results.
The Effect Of Personalization
These stats from Small Business Trends show the efficacy of direct mail, with 80-90% of direct mail being opened and an average ROI of 18-20 percent. Direct mail takes on an even greater role, however, when combined with strategies to make it more personal. Take a look at this list of direct mail case studies, for instance, courtesy of the United States Postal Service. They concluded that customized mail had a higher average response rate for the telecom company used in their example than non-personalized methods of direct mailing–an increase of 2.1 percent.
Then there’s AT&T’s success with a hyper-specific, outside-the-box direct mailing approach. Their technique, dubbed “video in print,” was crafted to appeal directly to the important influencers they wanted to capture. The campaign went out to fewer than 75 high-value targets, but nine percent (9%) directly converted to sales. Even though this campaign had the backing of AT&T’s hefty amounts of capital, the example holds lessons for those with smaller budgets–direct marketing can achieve sales results when executed correctly.
These mailing strategies worked because they were well aware of their target audiences and made their materials personal to each one. This approach helps bypass the knee-jerk reaction a home or business owner might have by showing them that you’ve done your homework and aren’t just shotgunning marketing materials at random.
Getting Results from Direct Mail
When crafting a mailing campaign that relies on postcards, the key to grabbing your potential customers is in the design. You might already have a graphic artist who can make your cards look slick, but the design has to contain more than mere visual appeal. It must also appeal to the psyche of your target. We already mentioned how personalized information factors into the game–do your research and planning so that you can include details that are relevant to the customers in the geographic area you’re targeting.
Postcards, particularly oversized ones, can pack in a lot of information. In spite of that, resist the urge to make your design crowded. Use short headlines, direct language, timely references and calls to action that will entice your potential clients to take the next step (contacting you for more information or singing your praises to their friends and neighbors).
Remember, you’re not trying to close a sale with direct mail; rather, your goal should be as follows:
DON’T be boring with your postcards – think about your customer coming home from work and checking their mailbox.
DO Grab interest so that reader feels self-motivated to reach out to you or tell others about your service.
DON’T make them look like obvious advertisements
Remember, ad-like or boring direct mail content is the one-two kiss of death for any direct mailing campaign.
How CrowdFiber Fits Into Your Plan For Success
CrowdFiber can help elevate your direct mail marketing to the next level. The geomarketing platform provides the tools to quickly add and send mail of various sizes from with only a few clicks at an affordable rate. No printing, mail merge, stuffing or stamping. You can track all the mail you’ve sent to see delivery dates to each prospect or subscriber. Our list and address segmentation tools allow you to craft direct mail messaging micro-tailored to the community, neighborhood, hobby, interest level, business type, or other demographic.
In addition to one-click direct mail fulfillment, CrowdFiber provides an avenue for your customers to send mail to their neighbors. By empowering your customers in this way, your marketing efforts will multiply, as zone goals drive first adopters to become advocates for your service. Look for the next deep dive into customer referrals.
In the meantime, get mailing and share with us your geomarketing questions and successes!
Average ROI of Direct Mail
Higher Brand Recall Mail Vs. Digital
Interested in learning more about our geomarketing platform?
One of the most enjoyable parts of building and selling any product in the marketplace is seeing your customers use it and learning from their insights and creativity. Some of the videos they have produced describe their campaigns, CrowdFiber, and the challenges of constructing Fiber to the Home are better than what we could do ourselves. Take a look at couple of our customers’ work:
This video describes a FTTH CrowdFiber campaign in Walla Walla, Washington by PocketiNet.
This video describes the CrowdFiber process for FTTH from Midwest Energy in Southeast Michigan.
This video by Midwest Energy helps consumers understand the process of fiber construction and shows some of the data CrowdFiber collects.
Have one you’d like to feature? Please send it to us.
One of the features we included from the very beginning of CrowdFiber three years ago is the capability to collect deposits. Modeled on crowdfunding and the concepts Kickstarter, Indiegogo, and others use, CrowdFiber lets our customers collect conditional deposits.
What is a conditional deposit? The way we define a conditional deposit is one that is committed only upon certain criteria being met. In the case of CrowdFiber, this criterion has always been a campaign goal so far such as X number of subscribers in a zone or Y dollars committed in service purchases for a commercial building location.
Why would a service provider want to collect a deposit, especially if they haven’t yet built fiber to the home in that zone yet? Deposits help providers know their customers have a strong interest in purchasing services. If a consumer says yes to gigabit fiber to the home service on a website, that is one thing. If he or she puts even a $5 commitment behind that vote, that is another. Their commitment is more real.
What is the downside? Naturally, fewer people will complete the sign up process. It is one more hassle to have to enter a credit card or send a check, but so far the campaigns that require deposits still meet their goals. The most impressive one for us is WiredWest in western Massachusetts. The project spans about a third of the state and has collected over $350,000 in conditional deposits from over 7,000 residents with most of the 31 towns taking part in the campaign getting at least a 40% pre-registration take rate. Impressive is definitely the word. The downside in their case is the additional administrative burden of managing payments, but our software does most of that work for them. Unless they get checks. Take a look at the snapshot of some of the checks WiredWest received. That takes some time.
Why do some of our campaigns not collect deposits? Some providers just want to gauge interest. They are confident that if the interest is there, the business will come. Some providers aren’t ready to have that level of commitment to the campaign. They want to explore. And many just want to avoid the complexity of collecting deposits.
Either way, it is great to see so many providers using CrowdFiber to bring advanced FTTH to people around the world.
We are excited to announce CrowdFiber Neighbors today – an add-on for CrowdFiber SP Edition.
With traditional approaches to crowdsourcing and demand aggregation, social media plays a critical role. Consumers spread the word about a new product or service using their social networks, and this helps aggregate demand for the provider’s product.
However, when ISPs try to use Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and other social tools to aggregate demand for high-speed internet services, TV and phone, these tools break down. The challenge is one of geography. This is especially true when using the build-to-demand approach pioneered by Google.
Let’s say there’s a gigabit fiber campaign in my neighborhood. After backing the campaign, I send out tweets to my Twitter followers, and posts for my Facebook friends – but this isn’t a very effective way to recruit others to join the campaign — since the vast majority of my friends and followers don’t actually live in my neighborhood or town.
CrowdFiber Neighbors is a breakthrough in broadband demand aggregation for ISPs. It introduces consumer-directed, geographically-targeted direct mail to spread the word about CrowdFiber campaigns and zones – at a neighborhood level. That’s right, direct mail! We’re partying like its 1999.
So, how does this work?
When a user backs a CrowdFiber campaign, they are presented with a list of their nearby neighbors, and they can select one or more to have a postcard mailed to. At no cost to the backer, a customized postcard is printed and mailed to the neighbors they select, along with an invitation to join the campaign. These postcards are printed and mailed at no cost to backers.
The response rate for those who receive the postcard is dramatically higher, since the postcard is being sent FROM a neighbor – not from the ISP. And ISPs gain valuable insight into precisely which consumers in their market are the most influential, helping them to tailor promotions and incentives.
Activation pricing for CrowdFiber Neighbors varies based on the number and density of zones, but a starter plan is just $99/month. ISPs can have a campaign launched in a matter of days. They can set a maximum number of postcards to be mailed campaign-wide each month, as well as establish quotas for the number of postcards that can be sent and received on a per-user basis. This provides ISPs with a fast-to-market, low-cost way to experiment with the power of crowdsourced demand aggregation.
We are proud to launch CrowdFiber Neighbors today in partnership with PocketiNet in Walla Walla, Washington. Click here to visit their active CrowdFiber campaign.
For more information about CrowdFiber SP Edition and CrowdFiber Neighbors, click here. Contact us to find out how we can help you build your market before you build your network.
When we first launched CrowdFiber™, we imagined community groups rallying together and using that online demand to engage service providers. Perhaps internet service providers could even compete for their business in our online marketplace. We have discovered that most communities, with the exception of a few standouts like the leaders in Baltimore, lack the leadership or ability to undertake an effort like this – at least for now. We are passionate about connecting more people, and recognized a need to pivot our focus in order to do just that.
In our consulting relationships, we found that the organizations and Internet service providers we worked with were eager to adopt a build-to-demand model. More than ever, ISPs needed new tools to engage and aggregate consumers ahead of time to justify targeted investments. They needed those tools to be easy to deploy, manage, and integrate with their internal billing, GIS, or other customer service tools. They did not want to compete in an online marketplace, but instead create a unique message, particular to their place, people, and history.
We have spent the last year developing and implementing a solution: CrowdFiber™ SP Edition is a white-labeled, service provider software-as-a-service portal, providing the same campaign, zone, product, and people management tools of the original platform, with many added features particular to ISP needs.
With CrowdFiber™ SP Edition, consumers engage with a campaign run by a local internet service provider and powered by our platform. The SaaS tool provides the service provider with mechanisms to pre-sell subscriptions and collect payments (if desired), measure demand, prioritize where and when they build networks, and justify the investments they are making.
It’s exciting to see how well this new model is working. From Virginia to Massachusetts, Michigan to California, our customers are building their businesses and bringing broadband services to areas that need it. We are especially delighted to be supporting electric co-ops choosing to provide fiber-to-the-home in rural America.
Beta customers have used CrowdFiber™ SP Edition to aggregate more than $30M in lifetime consumer value. And they are using these commitments to justify more than $300M in capital investment.
We can’t wait to see what the next year will hold as we partner with more service providers to pursue our mission to connect as many people as possible.
In February 2010, the Mayor of Duluth, MN jumped into the icy waters of Lake Superior. A month later, the Mayor of Sarasota, FL got into a tank full of sharks. That same month, the city of Topeka, KS changed its name. What these and many other stunts had in common was that they were designed to convince Google that their town was the best place to build its first Gigabit fiber network. More than 1,100 cities competed in this beauty contest. The single, lucky winner was Kansas City.
About five years earlier, conditions in the market were very different. I was sitting in a conference room in San Francisco. I was representing the City of San Francisco in negotiations with Google and Earthlink to construct a citywide Wi-Fi network. That project failed, at least in part due to a clash between the red tape served up by the city and the red carpet expected by the providers. The parties got frustrated or bored and walked away.
The market seems to have now concluded that Google’s fiber model is the way of the future. Create scarcity by holding a contest for cities to compete to be the first location for a new breakthrough service. Determine where and when to make service available by getting neighborhoods to compete by aggregating their demand. Rinse and repeat, right? Maybe not. I think many questions remain about whether this model can scale beyond an experiment.
Using these strategies, Google did find a way to get local governments to reconsider and, maybe, streamline their red tape — rights of way, utility pole attachments, and universal service requirements. And they cleared up a central point of confusion from the experiment with San Francisco years earlier — who is the buyer and who is the seller. And other providers are now following their lead. CSpire, a mobile operator in Mississippi, recently convinced 33 towns to compete to “Get Fiber First.” Nine of the 33 towns who competed were chosen.
All of these developments suggest that Google’s model may be repeatable. By all accounts, the folks in Kansas City, and soon Austin and Provo are thrilled with the progress in their towns. And I am sure the nine towns in Mississippi are happy about CSpire’s selection. But where does this leave the 24 towns that weren’t chosen by CSpire? And what about the 1,100 towns who danced for Google and didn’t “win”? At the risk of making the perfect the enemy of the good here, I will argue that this is where the challenge lies.
What do the hundreds, thousands of communities who recognize the importance of being part of the Gigabit movement do now? I might argue that, a dangerous precedent was set by the Google Fiber RFP and CSpire contests. Are there communities now sitting idle and waiting for another ISP to surface — for another RFI or RFP to come out — dreaming up new stunts to attract the attention of these knights in shining armor? I admit, this seems like the worst, most cynical view of where things could stand. Many communities are making progress in private partnerships, planning community networks, building networks with municipal and cooperative electric partners, pursuing grant and other sources of funding. But many also appear to be lying dormant.
What seems most important is that communities play a proactive role in driving progress in this area. Communities should think about their role at the table. The actor Jude Law was quoted once to say “I’m only wanted by directors for the image I give off, and it makes me angry. I always wanted to be an actor and not a beauty pageant winner.” That’s the attitude that will move communities forward.
Gigabit has quickly become the new gold standard for broadband services. After the beauty contest for cities held by Google Fiber, and their decision to deploy first in Kansas City, communities everywhere now want these services. Combine this with successful, large-scale FTTH projects by municipal electrics in places like Bristol VA, Lafayette LA, and Chattanooga, TN — and the question of whether communities and consumers need Gigabit ceases to matter anymore. They want it.
But how does a community get there? Google has cherry-picked only a few towns to experiment with. Most communities don’t have municipal electric companies. And less-than-Gigabit services from the private-sector, like Verizon FIOS and AT&T U-Verse, are confined to the suburbs – or denser, more affluent areas. What options exist for the thousands of communities that remain?
Communities that lack the tolerance for financial risk, access to capital, or technical and operational abilities to build their own network often turn to public private partnerships (PPPs) — and the challenge then becomes how to attract a partner, and how to structure the terms of the partnership to balance public benefit with investment return.
Universal service goals often end up on the negotiating table. Can universal service for these kinds of networks be achieved? Is it good policy to mandate that all neighborhoods and businesses be served by these new advanced services? I will argue here that it is not, and here’s why:
In most cases, these projects require expensive over-builds of copper networks. A nationwide buildout of FTTH has been estimated to cost $140B – more capital than is likely to be invested by the public and private sectors combined in the coming years. Even if a provider makes the investment in FTTH, they often end up sharing the market with legacy services like DSL and cable, and those legacy services are often “good enough” to water down the business case for overbuilding where the economics are already challenging.
In areas like Kansas City where Google’s fiber deployment has been prioritized according to demand, even neighborhoods that failed to meet their pre-registration goals have benefitted collaterally. For example, consider the work of the KC FreedomNetwork, a nonprofit wireless internet service specifically designed for low-income households. The deployment of Google Fiber in the more high-demand areas opened the door for other individuals and organizations to mobilize around serving the lower-demand areas. Is this perfect or ideal? No. But it’s better than an alternative where a requirement to serveall neighborhoods would have resulted in Google not deploying in any neighborhoods.
Early, targeted Gigabit experiments provide value to the overall market by providing a laboratory for experimentation. Even though these deployments are often not universal, they do provide opportunities for early-adopters, engineers, hackers and many others to uncover the next breakthrough applications that exploit gigabit-speeds. Once discovered, these applications may pave the way for new revenue streams that encourage FTTH investments in lower-demand areas. When PCs were introduced in the 1980s, not everyone had them. In the end, it wasn’t regulations and mandates that drove millions of consumers to prioritize PCs — it was the creation of killer applications like WordStar and Lotus 123.
Broadband is a necessity, but when it comes to advanced services like Gigabit, communities should not lose the opportunity to be a part of the experiment because they can’t reach every home and business immediately. That would be making the perfect the enemy of the good.
There are great examples where these approaches are being used by communities that would otherwise certainly be left out of the move to Gigabit. Consider the nine communities in Mississippi that were selected through a very innovative program by CSpire, a large independent mobile operator. CSPire’s FAQ on the program clearly states that “There will be a $10 pre-registration fee. The fee may be refundable if we do not build your specific location, or applied as an account credit if we do. Pre-registration is required to determine the neighborhood(s) to build first.”
Deploy-to-demand is quickly becoming the model for advanced FTTH gigabit-speed services. CrowdFiber™ helps communities and service providers organize their projects, aggregate their demand, and prioritize their investments. Get started by creating a new campaign here.