Heather Gold: In 1984, I saw the difference that competition and choices made to residential and small business customers. Years later, as I had walked through many companies, but primarily those building fiber optics, I became the President and CEO of the Fiber Broadband Association. It was so clear to me, after that experience, that the availability of high capacity broadband, most efficiently delivered over fiber optic lines, was the best way to deliver access to the global economy, education, and healthcare for every citizen. Yet not all citizens, usually due to geography or income, were getting the access they needed, the high capacity broadband. I saw that many communities lack that fundamental education on why broadband was important and essential. That's my mission today, to speak to communities about why high capacity fiber optics is important and to help communities that don't know where to go to get information about the differentiators that access makes, to connect them with people that can help them do it.
One of the most profound questions someone asked me once, about this effort, that really impacted me, is "Why should where a child lives, why should the zip code a child lives in determine the access to educational resources?"
Heather Gold: What we're seeing today is a tipping point; more communities electing to deploy fiber optics, last mile, for their community, for their citizens. We're starting to see real haves and have nots between communities that deploy it and those that are still without it. And so I think that there's a real push to link together those areas that haven't yet received it.
Pete Pizzutillo: There's almost a bathtub curve of the retiring baby boomers who are smart and have high expectations. They're moving to rural areas where they don't have the kind of services that they had access to in more metropolitan areas. Then you've got all the gen X, and all those guys in the middle, which are just kind of more tolerant than the baby boomers. But then the millennials, they've grown up with just mobile broadband and their expectation, as they buy houses, or they look for working remotely. Those two big groups are not the only ones contributing to that envy, but they are at least a massive group of people that are setting expectations about connectivity.
Heather Gold: As you point out, there is more and more baby boomers that are looking to retire to communities that might offer a less frenetic pace of life. But they still want the access to the kinds of things they had access to in urban areas. And for millennials, high speed broadband is one of the number one requirements in any kind of housing unit. So those two are driving it.
Heather Gold: I want to say is there's no one answer for every community, but there are prescriptive steps to take to get to the answer. The first step communities need to do is find a champion, some individual or group that will really lead the community discussion on why they should have broadband. It could be a mayor. It could be the head of economic development. It could be the person who runs schools. Any audience that is impacted directly by the need for high capacity broadband and understands how it will change the life of the citizens in that community. Once you have a champion, then that champion needs to lead a group that will do several things. The first is to create what is commonly known as, I didn't invent this, an asset inventory that goes through all of the things that community could bring to the table to spur investment. It could be the town hall could be used for a central office. You could have unused buildings around the community, a complete inventory of all your streets and rights of way. And anytime you open a street, did you put conduit in? Whether there are local police that can allow their buildings to be used for different aspects of deployment of a fiber. And then the final thing they need to do is to figure out where demand will come from. In other words, who isn't being served, schools, libraries, regional hospitals, all of these entities will want access to high speed broadband. And having them as customers will help offset, and bring services, so that the rest of the community can be served.
Pete Pizzutillo: So find somebody who can become the voice and be the driving force within the community. Start rallying folks to try to get a critical mass of people interested in this. Take a step back and look at a physical asset inventory, both from equipment and buildings to see what kind of infrastructure's already in place to support this. And then finally, really who's underserved. And how do you then bring them and create a plan to help bring the underserved within your community at least to a baseline capability of broadband connectivity.
Heather Gold: The way you approach that problem depends on whether you're working with a municipal, publicly owned is the term I like, publicly owned utility, a cooperatively owned utility, or an (IOU) investor owned utility. For the publicly owned utility and the cooperative, it's a similar approach. You, the citizen, are an owner in that entity and you need to influence whoever's become the champion to make the case that part of your ownership in that utility, you would like to see used to bring this additional utility service. Which also benefits the electric coop simultaneously because of their ability to put things like smart grid and smart metering on the system simultaneously.
For the investor owned utility, that's a different, that's a state by state play. What we've seen in Virginia is that our legislature has been working with the investor owned utilities to find ways to incent them to deploy middle mile. And then once they deploy middle mile, then it becomes more economic for a rural community to find a partner to do last mile. And I guess I'd point your listeners to the example of Grayson County, Virginia where AEP, American Electric Power, is going to be building middle mile facilities there. And another company will then do last mile. So like I said, the electric utilities have tremendous assets in place. They have the poles, they have access to the customer base, they know the community. In many instances, they have close billing relationships with the whole community. And they have the boots on the street. So they really have the tools available to them to help make it a more efficient investment, plus their roots in the community. So all those aspects help them, and then help the community in getting deployments faster and more efficiently.
Pete Pizzutillo: I think the community leaders should also reach out to the utilities because the utilities are thinking the other way as well. There's a bit of a pull and a potential push opportunity as a lot of the utilities have fiber optics in place through AMI or smart grid. They're thinking of their own future and how do they make their customers happy. So they're already a little bit further down the learning curve in terms of thinking through this. So the community leaders I think have an informed partner. They just need to start having those conversations a little bit.
Heather Gold: Exactly. How do you take this asset that's already part of the community, and make it even more widely available, and make the investment even broader?