Fast, affordable Internet access for all.
Advice for Communities from Industry Guru Doug Dawson - Community Broadband Bits Podcast 387
Doug Dawson from CCG Consulting and author of the POTs and PANs: Pretty Advanced New Stuff by CCG blog met up with Christopher back in October in Alexandria, Virginia, and the two recorded this week's podcast episode. They were attending most recent Broadband Communities event, a place where experts and community leaders gather to talk about latest developments and opportunities in broadband and economic development. Christopher, who's had Doug on the show several times in the past, asked him to provide some general advice to communities interested in improving broadband. Doug shared both advice and observations.
Doug notes that counties, rather than municipalities, are seeking out his expertise more frequently these days. He also goes on to point out that in the past, local communities asked him to determine if they could take steps to improve Internet access but now they simply ask how they can do it. The shift exemplifies the growing understanding that local leaders see how high-quality Internet access and fast, affordable, reliable connectivity drive economic development and help preserve their communities.
Doug and Christopher talk about the growing desire to address digital inclusion and how Doug is increasingly helping local communities find ways to shrink the digital divide. Christopher and Doug also look at reasons why local communities should think twice about investing in publicly owned networks. These types of projects aren't the best course of action for every community and Doug, as a straight talker, helps his clients determine when they should shelve plans to deploy publicly owned networks and look for other answers.
For more from Doug Dawson, check him out in podcast episode 353 and episode 306. Be sure to check out POTs and PANs by CCG for some insightful and thought provoking articles. We don't know how he does it all!
We want your feedback and suggestions for the show-please e-mail us or leave a comment below.
Listen to other episodes here or view all episodes in our index. See other podcasts from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance here.
Thanks to Arne Huseby for the music. The song is Warm Duck Shuffle and is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution (3.0) license.
Doug Dawson: It's no longer should we do it, it's how do we do it and that's a giant change.
Lisa Gonzalez: Welcome to episode 387 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. I'm Lisa Gonzalez. Many listeners already know Doug Dawson from CCG Consulting. He's been on the podcast before often meeting up with Christopher at events to sit down and discuss current happenings. Both are attending the broadband communities economic development event in Alexandria, Virginia when Christopher decided he wanted to hear some advice for communities from the man who has worked with so many of them over the years. Doug explains how many of his clients are no longer asking if they can improve broadband, but turned to him for advice on how to do it — they know it's critical. He talks about the feasibility study process and how a high level of communities that hire him for studies are following through and moving forward with his recommendations. Doug gets into some of the reasons why local communities are making broadband investments and explains why it isn't always a good choice for every community. Be sure to check out Doug's blog, POTsandPANsbyCCG.com. Now, here's Christopher talking with Doug Dawson from CCG Consulting with advice for communities.
Christopher Mitchell: Welcome to another edition of the Community Broadband Bits podcast, early morning live edition. I couldn't quite hit that intro the way I like to, but this is Chris Mitchell coming to you from Alexandria, Virginia, where we're at the broadband communities event. It's been a wonderful event, I'm talking about economic development and local governments for the most part. I'm here with Doug Dawson, a repeat guest, founder and owner of CCG Consulting. Welcome back!
Doug Dawson: Hi Chris!
Christopher Mitchell: It's been a fun event. We had a chance to talk a little bit yesterday and one of the things I wanted to talk to you about was what we're seeing in the landscape for cities that are trying to figure out what they can do in this space and whether we're seeing more of them and whether they're being more successful now. So what do you, what are you seeing?
Doug Dawson: Well, first of all, I want to modify your question because what I'm actually seeing most of today are counties now because counties are places where they don't have the broadband. Or, their County seat that has broadband and then 80% or 90% of their service area doesn't have broadband. And so I'm working with a ton of County governments, and in some cities and what I have seen, and this is a big change when they come to me now looking for broadband solutions, they're not asking is broadband feasible anymore.That's not the question that they're asking. Even though they do feasibility studies, they go, "How can we make it work?" They already know they want it and so it's three years ago, they were truly asking the question, "Could we make it work here? No one ask that question anymore. And they go, "How do we pay for it?" It really is the question. So now they know that they can't afford them so they're going and they're coming in and they're going, you know, help us find a partner, help us figure out how to do it ourselves but they know they want this. It's no longer, should we do it, it's how do we do it and that that's a giant change because communities were just deciding. Ten years ago, I said, "If you all don't do it and no one else is going to do it", and they finally all realize that. I mean they can see the map now and they go, "Geez, no one's bringing it in here, are they?"
Christopher Mitchell: Well, that's wonderful to hear because I've been critical of certain consultants in the field that many are critical of nobody to dig too deep into that. In part because I've long felt that the feasibility study should not be a yes or no, but a how.
Doug Dawson: Right and that's what I do now. In fact, I tell them up front, a feasibility study has two separate purposes. You do an engineering analysis and you do the financial models for the partners unless they want to do it themselves and then you're doing it for them. You do the written report for the community that explains how and why and cause there's lots of folks who need to be educated on it and it gets that conversation started. So it's really a two product piece of work and so, and what we do is we take, usually now a week after we're finished the study, we get all the local ISPs on the phone and we go, "Let's tell you about what we found here, maybe, you guys can make this thing work." And we show them the numbers because every ISP is interested in partnering with anybody, theoretically. If you're a county and you call every ISP within a hundred miles, they go, "Sure, we're interested." They're not really, they're only actually interested when they see the numbers and then two thirds of them will go, "I don't have any equity, I can't borrow that kind of money" or whatever. They walk away but then one or two of them may go, "Let's find a way to make that work." Now they know what they're talking about before that they're just talking in theory. Yeah, you've got 4,000 unserved houses, how much is it going to cost? Right cause it's never the same number of county by county, by county, so, that report generates that result where you can have an honest conversation with ISPs and all of a sudden you can find a real solution.
Christopher Mitchell: One of the things that I heard from someone that wasn't looking to be attributed was that there are many small ISPs that have been quietly partnering some of them for years with local governments, but they just aren't talking about it and they're not even talking to their other ISPs about it. And I don't know if there's like some shame involved or if they're just afraid others will figure out the opportunity or what but it seems like there's many more willing partners in than there were a few years ago.
Doug Dawson: There was a time where small Telcos did not want to tell other Telcos they were doing that because the cities were the enemies. Because there were a few cities who had become ISPs and they were scared to death and every little Telcos is scared to death that their local government is going to do the same thing. And so it was sort of shame. I mean, to be honest, they all did it. A lot of them did these little partnerships, but they certainly did not talk about it very loud. Nowadays they're openly forming partnerships because what does a partnership mean? — it means the community gives them some money. No one's ashamed of that. And that's what it really means. You know, they make them, you know, they help them become, a customer on their network and they give them all the city's business and they usually are nowadays giving them grants or loans. And so that's, you know, everyone knows that works now and so it's a whole different world.
Christopher Mitchell: So people are coming to you and they're saying, "How can we make this work?" Are you finding ways in which you can make it work now?
Doug Dawson: I responded to an RFP not long ago where they asked me a question in the RFP and they said, "Tell us your success rate." And I go, I don't know. That's not something, you don't have a chalkboard where you come up and you start marking these down. So I went back a year, I go, you know, any, any study I finished in the last year or you can't, who knows because it's still brand new, right? So I went back from two to four years back, every single study that we worked on, the cities or counties found the solution already. It blew me away. I didn't even know we did that and I think other consoles are finding the same thing. The point is these folks are ready to make something happen. They get the study in hand and they go off and run with it. So then they do that exact step I said earlier, they take that study, they take the numbers, they talk to their neighboring ISPs in there, and they're starting to find solutions. And they may not find the ultimate solution, you know, it may be a county who find someone who does 20% of the rural area, but that's a start. Like, well, not 20% off the board, let's go work on the other 80%. They've all found at least some solution. A few counties have found a 100% solution, which is amazing for a rural county to get a partner who builds the whole darn thing and then a few of them have done that.
Christopher Mitchell: Actually, I was just realizing I didn't properly introduce you assuming that people would be familiar with you, but you write the POTs and PANs by CCG site.
Doug Dawson: Yes, I'm guilty. Yes.
Christopher Mitchell: But then also last night, you announced you have your thousandth customer ISP that you are working with.
Doug Dawson: Yeah, my wife told me that, cause we, you know, going around, I guess this is our 24th year and she goes, "You know, you've had a thousand clients now, that's amazing."
Christopher Mitchell: Yes, it is amazing.
Doug Dawson: You know, that's a lot of clients and they're all in the Telecom world, about 350 maybe now closer to 400 are municipalities, the rest are commercial companies. That's a whole lot of companies.
Christopher Mitchell: Yeah. So the other thing I wanted to talk to you about, and we're not gonna name any names, but at a recent panel, I was talking about how I feel like people misunderstand my intent, my strategy, and they sometimes think that I'm looking for every city to get into this game in terms of building networks or operating networks or something like that. And I've not thought that was realistic, I don't think that's even a goal. But I mentioned that I don't think some cities should do it. And someone came up and said, "I'd really like to hear you do a show on why cities shouldn't do it." So let's start by just talking about some of the clients you've worked with in which you came back to them and said, "You know what, I don't think this is a good fit for you."
Doug Dawson: Well first of all, 80% to 90% come to the end and don't want to be the ISP. So most governments, they don't want to be an ISP cause they already realize without any, without even getting external advice, they go, "We're not ready to do this." County governments, particularly, county governments do not have utilities, they don't have any real technical folks. I mean they might have one or two IT guys, but I mean they're not ready to tackle a technical business so they don't want to be ISPs but cities, a lot of them still do.
Christopher Mitchell: So let's dig into this in terms of that like when they say we're not ready to do it, I suspect, and of course they don't have someone they can promote to it and you wouldn't, if you wanted to do this, you wouldn't necessarily find someone who's working in the permitting office and have them running. You'd hire someone but even that, I think cities will recognize that for some cities they may not be confident they can attract the talent that they would need to run something like that. I'm suspecting that's one of the hangups.
Doug Dawson: The number one factor that makes cities competent they can do that are still cities who run electric utilities. Those guys almost always feel competent they can do it because they're already running I think some more business and they know there's a lot of crossover. They don't hire a whole new staff. They add five people onto their electric company staff. And that makes all the difference financially as well. It's an economy of scale business and so, I mean I advise people not to do it cause sometimes I've worked for cities who don't have electric utility and it's like if you have to hire 11 people, that alone breaks the business plan. There's not enough customers here to support 11 employees. However, if you are an electric guy and you're hiring six new employees, that works great.
Christopher Mitchell: Right. Cause you can have a slice of the CSR's time that the customer service representative's.
Doug Dawson: Right. And their supervisors and the accountant and all those folks that you have who you don't think about but those all contribute to that business.
Christopher Mitchell: Right. And to be clear, there are laws in many States against cross subsidization. In general, we don't think it's a good business practice even if you are allowed to cross subsidize to do it. And so you would be paying for slices of these people's time. The point is you don't have to figure out 40 hours worth of work for them.
Doug Dawson: And that's not cross subsidization, that's simply taking advantage of economy of scale. And so there's nothing wrong with properly accounting for it and that's the hidden bonus of a city getting into it is — gee, we just transferred half a million dollars of cost to this new utility. Look at that electric water finally is making a profit.
Christopher Mitchell: Right, exactly. Yeah, I mean this is one of the things that we try to report on is that the electric rates in cities that have citywide broadband are lower. I think they increase slower because it's rare that you would actually decrease the rate.
Doug Dawson: But they do a long term studies and so yeah, they don't usually decrease. Right but they've taken a huge cost burden off of their electric utility. Absolutely. So I've, you know, I'm one of those honest consultants who go, "You shouldn't do this so, you know, normally, it's either labor is a big thing or they just, you can just tell they're not because the biggest other thing that a city or anyone needs to do this is they have to be able to sell. And when you start talking to them and they look like deer in the headlights, it's like you're not going to learn to sell, are you? And they go, "No." It's like, "Well then you can't succeed at this." If you go back and look at, you know, some of the municipals who have failed sales was, they don't talk about that much but sales is generally the fault.
Christopher Mitchell: Right, right. And even if the problem is not sales, having better sales would have resolved the problem they did have.
Doug Dawson: Right, because I mean, it takes revenues to pay for it. And if you're not very good at that, just because you're an electric company doesn't mean you're any good at sales either. So to me, having an affordable labor force to run this thing and having the ability to sell are the number one and two factors. And sometimes it's just a cost issue. I mean, I've told cities no, because the numbers are terrible. If you're in a rocky city and the poles are in terrible shape and the network's going to cost twice as much as anybody else. You have no business building a fiber network. So a city like that has to get realistic and go, "Well, what can we do?" And so there's always something. So I recently worked for a city who, what I said, have all these successes. One of the successes was they're not going to build fiber everywhere. It just is never going to work in that city but they already built a fiber ring. They've already partnered with several ISPs to use it. They hooked up all the city buildings and they're going to keep on expanding that little bit by little bit. And that city, unless something drastically changes, they're not going to get to the residential neighborhoods because the math is just atrocious because of the cost of building in that particular city. But they still have a pretty large success and they're actually pleased what within a year they got all those things. I mean, they took that study and ran with it like crazy so, you know, success is not always, I'm going to get fiber to everybody. The other success that people are having, you know, we have to remember now that pretty much everybody who can afford broadband has it, unless you live in a place where you just physically don't have it. So a lot of the cities are coming to me and the digital divide and the homework gap are actually their number one thing on the list of why they're hiring me. So they don't necessarily need a full city fiber solution. They need to find a way to get affordable broadband. So the parts of the city that can't afford it, and if that's all they're looking for, that's a totally different solution.
Christopher Mitchell: Right and I like to say sometimes that in some of those cases, building a whole new network may actually be a way to get at that.
Doug Dawson: Right.
Christopher Mitchell: But that you don't make the same investment necessarily if you're looking for economic development as if you're trying to deal with the digital divide.
Doug Dawson: Right. Every client is different, I work for a city who hired me because they thought that their businesses needed better broadband, so we interviewed all the businesses and they had no interest in better broadband because they already had good broadband. The city didn't think they did, but they were all on fiber. Most of them made their corporate buying decisions from elsewhere. They had a lot of large factories so that you know, that's interesting all by itself. Right, and they were like, well, we wouldn't, it wouldn't hurt us to save some money, but we're probably not going to be able to make that buying decision locally anyway. It turns out the city ran in a different direction once they got this study. It turns out that what they thought was a problem wasn't a problem, which is not unusual because that's why you study it, let's go find out. But their initial reason to come to us was a bad reason. If they were known that they might not have even done the feasibility study. So, you know, I mean every city is unique. It's always a puzzle to put it all together and find out what the heck is really going on there.
Christopher Mitchell: Yeah, we did, I just did an op-ed that hasn't yet been published as we're recording this about Fort Dodge where, in Iowa where, the [Taxpayers Association], which is a ridiculous group as you know has been saying that if they vote yes to create a telecom utility, they will basically be having the city or certainly bond for a citywide municipal fiber network. And I didn't think that was accurate so I looked back at the numbers where in Iowa in 2004, we had this massive referendum. They did, you know, I was in, I wasn't even in grad school yet. I was just thinking about it and in that roughly 30 some cities had a referendum on whether they should establish a telecom utility and roughly half of them said yes. Of those, half of them, MediaCom or CenturyLink, responded to the threat with more investments. And so those cities backed off. Since then a few of them have moved forward but we see the same thing in Colorado with more than a hundred cities having opted out. Many of them have not taken substantial new action or put it, you know, and I'll say this, I don't want to buy any narratives, but they haven't put any taxpayer dollars at risk. I think I'm generally trying to be honest in that like any investment is some form of risk. I think it's less risk than the opponents tend to say but the simple fact is that studying an issue, in the past has generally not resulted in a significant investment from a city, I think.
Doug Dawson: Right. But it opens up their ability to have an honest conversation with ISPs. And so I worked with a number of cities in Colorado who are not going to build fiber networks, but now they know, they've learned how to talk to smaller ISPs. And a lot of them are going to come and do things in their town and to them that's the success they were looking for because they're getting some competition. They're going to get some lower prices. They may eventually get someone to overbuild their town with fiber. But you know that you have to start somewhere and so, I don't think there's going to be that many cities that actually pay the overbuild themselves. It's becoming a pretty rare thing because the partnerships are such a smarter idea. You bring in someone who already knows what they're doing. You have that whole economy. A guy who comes in who already got 40,000 customers, can serve your customers a lot more cheaply than you can. It's the math is so straightforward and simple. The other issue, you got to remember to go back to why cities shouldn't do it, there's a surprising number of cities that I've actually had them go, "Yes, we're going to do this" And then they go talk to their bond guy and he goes, "You can't borrow that much money, not in a million years. You're just not that solid." It doesn't even matter that you, the cities just can't write a check to write bonds, they have a credit limit just like everybody in the world. It's like, well I can't go buy a $400,000 car because they would just laugh at me at the bank and the cities are in the same position.
Christopher Mitchell: I'm surprised to hear that because the Taxpayer Protection Alignment tells me that you are a very high priced consultant and that you guys are basically driving Lamborghinis to these town meetings.
Doug Dawson: Well, I've been driving a Ford truck forever, but you know, so it comes down to why you shouldn't do it is labor costs, the price of the network, whether you can sell or not, and can you even borrow that much money in the first place. And so, you know, one of those four reasons when I tell people no, that's probably 80% or 90% of the reasons why I would tell them no.
Christopher Mitchell: So from my perspective, I have some concerns about different partnership arrangements because I think there are cities for whom they could do this and there may be a partnership opportunity and they want to do that because it's easier. It's a path in which they have less risk for their personal political careers and that sort of thing. I'm worried that in a number of those cases down the road, that partner basically becomes the next monopolist because the history of telecom is one of consolidation. And so, I mean, even if you look at Urbana-Champaign in which they really did a good job finding a local partner that they trusted and before that partner could build hardly anything they'd sold to a national company that had no roots in Illinois whatsoever. And so, you know, I don't want to sit here and say that I don't want people to take away the wrong blanket statement that if they can find a partnership, they shouldn't consider other options. At the same time, let me tell you, I live in St. Paul, Minnesota where our local government has lost my trust through a series of poorly implemented plans. And when I think about that, I mean St. Paul is not poorly governed by ordinary standards, but in Minnesota we have pretty functional local governments and so I get nervous about even thinking about that because I'm like, you guys don't have a good track record.
Doug Dawson: You hit a really fundamental question there. Cities either have to go, I want better broadband or I want competition — it's kind of hard to do both. That's a very hard thing to pull off. You know, there's a few folks who have pulled off open access. Most of the time that's not going to work. Even the math is bad or there's not enough ISPs around you in the first place to get on the network and partner or those ISPs are so tiny that they're going to fail. The number one reason Provo failed is they started out with like 11 ISPs, they were down to four. Those four were talking about consolidating and they're going like, this is an open access, right? And math was terrible. Building fiber, whether the city does it or they get one partner, the chances are you are getting a new monopoly, the cable company's not going to go away. So now you do at least have a true duopoly competition but, you know, you can't build something as expensive and risky as a fiber network and going, and also we want every choice in the world because we're not Europe. You don't open a network and have 75 ISPs show up and get on it — that's never going to happen here.
Christopher Mitchell: Well, never, I think, and I don't, I don't think you mean never never. I think you mean that it's a bet. It's like it's a bet that I don't think you'd take is what I'm hearing from you.
Doug Dawson: Until the big companies decide they're going to operate on other people's networks, which they have never yet done.
Christopher Mitchell: Well CenturyLink is doing this thing that, and you're going to say that it's not the same thing.
Doug Dawson: They're still the only provider there.
Christopher Mitchell: In Springfield?
Doug Dawson: Right. That's not the same thing as open access.
Christopher Mitchell: I agree with you that it is not the same like it's one of those things where it's like it lowers the barrier to entry but not significantly enough to do what open access advocates have been looking for, which is this more robust competition. Well let me, I mean, I want to be honest about this. I am very bullish about open access in the sense that I want the, I want to run this experiment because I think there's still things we can learn and I do believe that there could be a business case that would create new ISPs that would want to operate in this model. I mean iFIBER from Washington is one that wants to be really ambitious about this. And there's several others that are coming out on what's the GigabitNow as well. And so, you know, Ting maybe want to go into this area and so I feel like I agree with you in that. I don't think people should assume that this is a solid model that can absolutely will pan out in the way we expect but I think I'm a little bit more hopeful than you are in this.
Doug Dawson: Well, you know, I've worked with most of the open access networks and there's only one or two that it can even be called remotely success so far.
Christopher Mitchell: By financial standpoint, having paid for themselves.
Doug Dawson: And the reason most of them are still operating, they love what's going on. The community loves the network and they love the competition and they love the prices. But the networks were being subsidized and there's nothing wrong with the city choosing to subsidize a network, but you should be doing that openly. I'm up front and go, we're going to subsidize it forever. And that's a valid community choice, but most communities are not ready to make that choice.
Christopher Mitchell: Yes, I agree with you. I think there's still some new chapters that are being written and even in the next few months perhaps, and I'm in some of these places that are, you know, looking at the Ammon model and that sort of thing where it's a whole different financial arrangement in which you just sort of de-risk it in interesting ways, but it remains to be seen what the long-term economics of that are. And part of the issue of open access has been that it's people often engaging in price competition, selling vanilla ice cream and I believe that there's a world in which there are different kinds of services that different companies specialize in. And I don't know if we're going to get to that world, but I'm trying very hard to help us see if we could.
Doug Dawson: Well, this is the difference between you being in graduate school and I'm at Howard, you're doing this for three years. I'm a little more cynical also. I'm a numbers guy. So, you know, if the numbers don't look promising to me, then again I go, "Look, the numbers aren't good, but you can still do it but here's what the consequences of going ahead and doing it are." I've yet to see an open access model that guarantees you're going to be successful so that you're taking a really large financial risk. You could be successful, but it's a much smaller chance than with an overbuild model, so with the one ISP model.
Christopher Mitchell: You use the Jon Sallet's forbidden word — the overbuilt, sorry.
Doug Dawson: Hey, every new network is overbuilt.
Christopher Mitchell: Right, right. No, and I just, I think, you know, it's a good conversation. You're not gonna certainly guarantee success in any situation, but I think it's worth understanding, and this is why many cities have come to you and said, we want to do open access and they've ended up not doing open access.
Doug Dawson: Yeah. I show them the numbers and then they make their choice and some of them are doing open access. I mean, again, I have a lot of clients who do open access, but they're making the choice to do that even with the numbers. And most of them have an electric company and they're going like that's okay, we can absorb it. It's like okay.
Christopher Mitchell: Well yeah and the public utility districts.
Doug Dawson: Now I'm going to have 13 people going who are they cause we need to go investigate for cross-subsidy issues. But most of them are accounting for it honest.
Christopher Mitchell: Right, right. In particular like I mean Chelan and Grant have written off significant parts of their debt that they made and that's not money that local electric rates have not been impacted by that. They've done wholesale, power sales often to California that have paid for that. So you know, and they cross subsidize their sewers often with that money too.
Doug Dawson: Grant County is now building the rest of the network, which is the rural expensive parts. And because they said we're going to finish this network, it's amazing.
Christopher Mitchell: Yeah. Grant County is like Delaware if you took a lot of people out of it.
Doug Dawson: It's huge. You can drive for two and a half hours across the county — that's a really big county.
Christopher Mitchell: So last question is, so let me say, I come to you and I'm like, look Doug, we're having a beer.
Doug Dawson: I'd say it's eight o'clock in the morning. We're not having a beer.
Christopher Mitchell: You know St. Paul has this history, but I know that we're going to have a Comcast monopoly. If they don't do something, what do I do to try to like get us on the right path?
Doug Dawson: Now I'm going to be hopeful for you because in the city, right next door to you, there's a fiber overbuild [in Minneapolis], and eventually they're going to get there. They're doing a great job in Minneapolis and they're building fiber one street at a time, but they've done a lot. They're eventually going to go, "Well, Minneapolis is done. Let's go to St.Paul" So be patient.
Christopher Mitchell: I live close enough to the river that I have hope.
Doug Dawson: Yeah, so I think they will eventually get there because when they're finished, that's their only real chance of expansion.
Christopher Mitchell: Let's say Minneapolis, U.S. Internet is not in Minneapolis. What do I do?
Doug Dawson: There's only like three cities that have a U.S. Internet equivalent, right? So what I see the larger cities doing in the NFL cities and bigger cities is they're now looking to tackle the digital divide. They're going like, we still have 15% of our population who doesn't have any Internet at all. So you know, you look at Buffalo and Buffalo is starting a trial this year to bring Internet to 5,500 school kids to their homes. They intend to give to every one of them so to them, that's the solution the city really needs because everyone else has broadband. So they're going like, you know, we don't want to be an ISP, but by gosh, you know, we have a cable company here, we have a telephone company here and we still have 25,000 students who don't have broadband to do their homework. So they're going to solve that problem. And so I think a city has to be realistic. If you look at all the NFL cities who have done feasibility studies, the cost of the network and San Francisco and Seattle and all the cities was north of a billion dollars. That's a massive undertaking and that's, and in most cases they have to do a referendum. They're never going to get that approved, but they have to get realistic with it.
Christopher Mitchell: And in most cases, people have told them ahead of time, don't even look at the numbers for doing a citywide all at once build, especially, if you're planning to connect to every home. It's not rational to do that, but they go ahead and do it in part because I think they're looking to shut people like me up by saying it's too expensive. Shut up, Chris.
Doug Dawson: Well, no, I think they really wanted a solution. I think the cities were honestly hoping to get better broadband.
Christopher Mitchell: San Francisco certainly was.
Doug Dawson: Seattle has had that on there. I mean they had two mayors who ran on that as an issue. I believe they legitimately meant it, but there was never going to happen. But you know, in doing that, they've really kept broadband at the forefront of the conversation in the cities and broadband has gotten better in both of those cities, not as good as they want. And I still think both of those cities should be turning around and looking at what Buffalo is doing. The fact is there's other ways to fix these problems.
Christopher Mitchell: Sure. Well, we got to go and learn about electric, rural electric utilities, electric co-operative specifically, so thank you, Doug.
Doug Dawson: All right, thank you!
Lisa Gonzalez: That was Christopher with Doug Dawson from CCG Consulting, offering some general advice for communities interested in improving local connectivity. Check out Doug's blog at www.potsandpansbyccg.com for some awesome articles that really get into the nitty gritty on broadband. We have transcripts for this and other podcasts email@example.com/broadbandbits. Email us at podcastatmuninetworks.org with your ideas for the show. Follow Chris on Twitter. His handle is @communitynets. You can also follow muninetworks.org stories on Twitter. The handle is @muninetworks. Subscribe to this podcast and the other podcasts from ILSR Building Local Power and The Local Energy Rules podcast. Access them any way you get your podcasts, catch all the important research from our initiatives. When you subscribe to our monthly newsletter at www.ilsr.org. While you're there, please take a moment to donate. Your support in any amount will help keep us going. Thank you to Arne Huseby for the song Warm Duck Shuffle licensed through Creative Commons, and thank you for listening to episode 387 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast.