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Want to be the next gigabit city? Here's how

Want to be the next gigabit city? Here's how

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From the FCC's first-ever gigabit workshop, here are five recommendations from experts about how to build a gigabit network anywhere.

Austin, Texas is new to the club. Kansas City joined in 2012. And Chattanooga, Tennessee was a founding member way back in 2010.

What do these cities have in common? They're all part of a growing network of gigabit broadband communities in the United States.

At a recent gigabit workshop hosted by the U.S. Federal Communications Commission, chairman Julius Genachowski emphasized the importance of building more high-speed broadband networks. "We really have no choice but to push forward on not just a competitive broadband infrastructure in the U.S., but a world-leading one," he said. "We need more gigabit communities in the United States."

Genachowski's statements were followed by a day-long event where people in the know hashed out the best ways to bring better broadband to U.S. cities. Here are five recommendations from those experts: top tips on how to build a gigabit network anywhere.

1. Make the economic case
Infrastructure investments must start with an economic impact statement. David Sandel, president of Sandel & Associates, helped develop one for The Loop Media Hub, a two-mile connected corridor in St. Louis. He's proud that "the document has not a single word of technology in it." Instead, the analysis outlines the revenue flow into the local economy, and the jobs the broadband investment should bring.

2. Follow the electricity model
Pioneer communities in the early 1900s built communication lines to and from local anchor institutions. According to Dale Hatfield, senior fellow at the Silicon Flatirons Center for Law, Technology, and Entrepreneurship, there were even "farmer lines" where "farmers would get together, and they would create their own line connecting to the telephone exchange in town." Where local utilities developed, those companies tended to meet their own needs first, then worked to drive economic development, and finally, depending on the economics, extended services to the larger community.

3. Collect every asset
High-speed networks are expensive, but it is possible to take some of the cost out of the equation. Heather Gold, president of the Fiber-to-the-Home Council, says communities must create an asset inventory. In Seattle, for example, one gigabit community had 38 buildings contribute their rooftops for antenna placement. And Gold says not to focus only on physical assets, "but a lot of times you have administrative and street labor skills."

4. Look for allies
Universities are natural allies for gigabit network projects because they foster innovation. This was the thinking behind the Gig.U project started in 2011, and the new North Carolina Next Generation Network (NCNGN) initiative. The participants in NCNGN include four universities and six municipalities. Together, Marc Hoit, vice chancellor for information technology at North Carolina State University, says they're "working as a coalition to provide assets and aggregate demand."

5. Work with incumbents (if possible)
Incumbent Internet providers would rather not compete against municipal upstarts, but sometimes the two can work together. Kevin Leddy, executive vice president at Time Warner Cable, points to the Connect NYC public/private partnership as a good example. "Our challenge is to continue to have a viable business model for Internet expansion," Leddy says. In the case of New York, Time Warner is working with the city to determine where faster networks could bring in new revenue while also contributing to overall community betterment.

The FCC will hold at least one more gigabit workshop this year.

Image credit: Sandel & Associates

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Mari Silbey

Contributing Editor

Mari Silbey is an independent tech writer based in Washington, D.C. With a background in cable and telecom, she's a contributor to several trade publications, and part of the GigaOM analyst network. She also writes for the long-running digital media blog Zatz Not Funny, and has written for both corporate and association clients focused on broadband networks, mobile apps, and video delivery. She's a graduate of Duke University. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure