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.
It has been some time since we last blogged here, but the silence is a result of much activity on the consulting side of the house.
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.
Are you interested in learning more? Let’s meet up, or reach out to us on Facebook, Twitter or directly.
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.
This week we released several important enhancements forCrowdFiber™.
Backing a campaign requires aCrowdFiber™ account. This ensures that users can return to the site to manage their campaign, review or cancel pledges, track status and so on. Previously, creating aCrowdFiber™ account required a separate sign-up process and a confirmation email. We have streamlined this sign-up process and make it more integrated with the process of backing a campaign.
Now, when a new user visits a Campaign on the site, they start by entering their address and clicking Search. CrowdFiber™ determines if their address is within the campaign area, checks to see what Zone it’s in, and presents the user with a Backer Form.
On the Backer Form, the user selects a Pledge Level, enters their name and email address, and proceeds to authorize payment through Amazon Payments. If the user is new to the site and doesn’t have aCrowdFiber™ account, they are asked to choose a password. The user’sCrowdFiber™ account is then created, their Backer contribution is recorded, and they are sent an email confirmation and Thank You.
For Campaign Owners, we now support tracking of abandoned or unsuccessful address searches. By clicking on the Campaign Data tab on their Dashboard, Campaign Owners can review all address searches that did not result in a successful Backer contribution. This allows Campaign Owners to better understand where searches are coming from, and to proactively help users who ran into problems backing their campaign.
Support for Multi-Dwelling Units and Business Parks
There is now an (optional) Apartment/Suite number on the address search form. This allows users who may have the same street address — as in apartments, multi-family units and business parks — to back campaigns individually. Previously, users were sometimes entering this suite/apartment number as part of their street address, so the separate field should cut down on failed address searches in those situations.