OneCommunity: An Important Model for America’s Broadband Revival

Jim Baller - Baller Herbst Law Group
Sean Stokes - Baller Herbst Law Group
Casey Lide - Baller Herbst Law Group

The Baller Herbst Law Group filed an extensive report with the FCC detailing important information about OneCommunity - a fascinating nonprofit organization connecting many communities with fiber and wireless connectivity in Ohio. OneCommunity works with a variety of public and private sector partners to expand access to last mile and middle mile connectivity. Because they fall within our broad definition of putting public needs first, I wanted to highlight this report.

OneCommunity’s roots go back to 2001. At the time, Case Western Reserve University (Case) had a robust fiber-optic communications system and considerable networking expertise, but the rest of Cleveland lacked advanced communications capability. Case’s president, Edward Hundert, and its chief information officer, Lev Gonick, believed that broadband connections to the Internet promised to be a major factor in the local economy’s long-term health; that broadband could transform Northern Ohio from a manufacturing-based to an information-based economy; and that Case could play a profoundly beneficial role in enhancing Cleveland’s broadband future. As a result, Hundert and Gonick reached out to several of Cleveland’s leading government, educational, cultural, philanthropic, and other non-profit organizations and persuaded them to join Case in founding a new entity called “OneCleveland” that would provide gigabit connectivity to participating organizations and pave the way for widespread and free wireless service.

OneCleveland expanded far outside the City and changed its name to OneCommunity. It has already tallied an impressive list of achievements:

In the Northern Ohio region, OneCommunity facilitated public and private arrangements for the deployment of a gigabit-capacity fiber-optic community network, soon spanning 22 counties and now serving over 200 subscriber entities and 1,500 schools, hospitals, clinics, government, and public safety locations. Over one million citizens are affected by the organizations that OneCommunity serves through the network.

The network is open and carrier neutral, but so much more. Read the paper -- and appendixes -- for more information. PS : I should note that I disagree with the conclusion:

OneCommunity is not attached to any particular ownership model for broadband infrastructure, believing that the more important questions are whether the broadband infrastructure is available and whether it is being used most effectively. As long as broadband infrastructure is available on reasonable terms and conditions, broadband infrastructure is an asset to every community in the region, regardless of who owns it...

I think the hedge words, "as long as," are key here. So long as private companies do not pursue their narrow self-interest, perhaps ownership matters less -- but that is hardly a basis for infrastructure policy. We do not see for-profit companies achieving the same success as OneCommunity because they have little incentive to do so. Being nonprofit is the key to success; it binds together the interests of private and public sector entities. The problem with ignoring ownership is that in the short term, private network owners may make this infrastructure available on reasonable terms and conditions - but they can change their mind at any time. Or they can sell it to another private company with different aims and no history in the community. In short, ownership matters. With the nonprofit OneCommunity, a variety of ownership models has combined to improve broadband access but the nonprofit is essential to that process.