The job of a State Broadband Director is hard. Giant Federal Programs to deal with the Digital Divide are looming, with the promise of government money frothing up lobbyists, consultants and providers into a swarm that wants to get your attention. So much money! So much fiscal responsibility! There are complicated rules, state and federal maps that don’t agree with each other and the constant din of fiber vs wireless vs cable vs mobile providers waging warfare for market share and political power. And don’t forget that there there are angry people in the state that either don’t have access to quality broadband or can’t afford it. Even though this is a giant task, your state government only wants to provide the bare minimum of financial resources and manpower to accomplish these goals. What is a State Broadband Director supposed to do?
Fear not, I have five weird tricks that will help you make a big difference for the people in your state.
ONE: Don’t Believe The Hype
You are going to hear things like “If it’s not fiber, it’s not broadband” and “government-run networks are failures” and “everyone needs gigabit speeds” – none of these statements are true, no matter how many times they are repeated. Have an open mind and look beyond the hype to find the best solutions for resolving broadband issues in each scenario. Fiber makes sense in some places, fixed wireless makes sense in others and in some places you need both. Public private partnerships or municipal projects will work in communities that have the resources and willpower to see them through – other locales have good private companies with a history of service that can take on the challenge. 100/20 speeds that can be deployed quickly and inexpensively to unserved locations are more valuable than gigabit networks that take several years to be build and cost exponentially more. Find the truth for each situation!
TWO: Organize a State Broadband Conference
Want to see progress made in a short period of time? Put providers, vendors, policymakers, public service commissioners, local government officeholders, educators, tech businesses, students and every day citizens in a big room to interact for a couple of days and watch the sparks fly! Find a few good speakers and present the latest information available about your state, share your goals and present a vision. Put together some spicy panels that will get people talking. Don’t just put three or four of the same kind of speakers on a panel where they just agree about how smart they are, put some mortal enemies on the stage and let them duke it out for everyone to watch! Bring in journalists to write about the event and offer free admission to students. Set up a dunk tank where angry consumers can drop a Lumen or Spectrum VP into cold water! If the state meeting goes well, consider smaller regional versions throughout the year. Get creative!
THREE: Hit The Road
Don’t be a stuffy bureaucrat sitting in a comfy office setting rules and making decisions while avoiding the public. Get out there and meet the people! There is no better way to make connections and gain a better understanding of the issues and concerns people have than to meet them where they are. When the time comes to put together solutions, you will have valuable perspective, better information and a set of relationships all over the state that can help enact positive change. The map is not the territory, go explore for yourself.
FOUR: Interns, Interns, Interns!
Motivated, well-meaning young people are a vastly underutilized energy source, and access to broadband is near and dear to their hearts. Put together an army of young people to help augment your beleaguered staff and help sell the message of broadband for all. They are a force multiplier – never miss an important meeting or fail to return a call. Give them a fantastic experience that shapes their future.
FIVE: Remember Who You Work For
This should go without saying, but remember this simple fact: You Work For The Citizens of Your State. All of the federal money and political manuvering can be intoxicating and distracting, but that is not your job. Your job is to get broadband out to people in your state! Don’t twiddle your thumbs waiting for a federal agency to set rules on the latest big funding program – figure out how to make a difference without it. Make connections and develop strategies for your state and your situation and keep focused on that goal. Money, especially public money, doesn’t solve the broadband problem – sometimes it makes the situation worse! Smaller programs with shorter timelines (see Cares Act projects) can make a big difference, especially if they are focused on results. Bigger programs favor larger companies that are more interested in extracting money from government and your fellow citizens, and carry a larger regulatory burden for both parties. Eyes on the Prize!