For many years there have been people extolling the huge benefits of public-private partnership for broadband. For all of that talk, there is not a big number of partnerships, but there are some successful examples around the country.
The following are the kinds of partnerships that I’ve seen created in the marketplace:
- Operator for Hire. There are a few examples of municipalities that have hired an ISP to operate the broadband business. The government builds the network and then hires a commercial ISP with experience to operate it.
- Leasing the Network. There are a few examples of governments that have constructed fiber networks and are leasing the capacity on the network to others. The newest example of this is West Des Moines, Iowa which has reached an agreement to lease dark conduit to both Google Fiber and Mediacom.
- Full PPPs. In a full public-private partnership, both the municipality and an ISP make a capital investment to add customers. For example, the government might build fiber into neighborhoods while ISPs pay for drops and customer electronics. There are many examples of this structure for serving business corridors, but fewer for serving residential neighborhoods.
- Open Access. For some reason, this isn’t mentioned much as a public-private partnership, but this is a full PPP between a municipal fiber owner and multiple ISPs.
I’m suddenly hearing about a bunch of new kinds of creative partnerships being created by communities. Communities that are looking for broadband solutions might want to consider the following:
Public-Public Partnerships. I’m seeing public-public partnerships develop that are similar to the more traditional public-private partnership. We’re going to need a new acronym other than PPP. Existing municipal ISPs are reaching out to help neighboring communities. The most common model I’m seeing discussed is where a community is building a fiber network and asking an existing municipal fiber provider to operate it. There are a handful of such arrangements but communities nearby to successful municipal ISPs are reaching out for help.
I’m also seeing multiple communities banding together to find broadband solutions. I’m working with several coalitions of multiple counties working together to find a broadband solution for a region so that nobody gets left behind.
Non-Profit Partnerships. I’m sure that these partnerships have always existed, but the federal digital equity funding is bringing communities and non-profits together to work towards digital literacy. This might mean programs to get more computers in homes and for students. It might mean training to use computers and to navigate the Internet. It might mean programs to train fiber technicians or coders.
While governments can tackle these kinds of programs, a better permanent solution is to work with non-profits to create sustainable programs that will survive this temporary burst of grant funding.