- The organization has many of the disparate parts of constructing a fiber network, but no understanding as to where and how to start making one a reality.
- There is community/political pressure to address the digital divide through community-controlled solutions.
- Municipal fiber networks could mean anything from an internal fiber network to a comprehensive broadband solution.Where and how might such a network fit into your overall strategy?
- In order to design and build a “fit for purpose” solution, the purpose must first be defined.
- An operating model bridges vision/strategy and execution.A minimum viable product high-level operating model for a municipal fiber network must at least define the deployment model to be used and structure of governance.
- Municipal fiber networks will not be built completely from scratch or without use of existing assets.Each municipality will bring a different mix of assets to the table in these projects. Understand yours.
Impact and Result
- Create a common understanding of what is to be built, for whom, and why.
- Define what services will be offered and how they will be governed.
- Understand which assets you already have that can jump-start the project.
Municipal Fiber Networks
Local Leadership in Connectivity
Municipal fiber networks can be deployed in many ways to achieve many different goals. Ensure that you understand the drivers and target market for your deployment in order to build an appropriate end state.
What is a Municipal Fiber Network?A municipal fiber network is a fiber network that is built out, owned, and/or operated by a municipality within its local region.
What purpose does it serve?Municipal fiber networks can serve many different purposes depending on the needs of the community. Some common uses are as follows:
|“When communities have a strong sense of what role fiber can play in the region’s development, they are better equipped to make sound decisions around network marketing, execution, and management.” (Source: OPInsight)|
Why build one?
Why Do It?There are many reasons that justify the value of building out a municipal fiber network. Potential areas of value are:
|“I think imaginative exercises can have a profound impact on the future – what you can imagine can sometimes turn into something you can figure out how to build.” (Vint Cerf)|
Potential Project Triggers
Common reasons that may align with initiating a municipal fiber network project:
Large capital project initiating
Long-term cost savings
Internet Exchange (IXP)
Regional Point of Presence (PoP)
How do you approach creating a municipal fiber network?
Over 600 communities in the US are served by some form of municipal broadband
Community Network Map | community broadband networks (muninetworks.org)
CREATE A VISIONIn order to design and build a “fit for purpose” solution, the purpose must first be defined.
DEFINE A HIGH-LEVEL OPERATING MODEL
An operating model bridges vision/strategy and execution. A minimum viable product high-level operating model for a municipal fiber network must at least define the deployment model to be used and structure of governance.
UNDERSTAND YOUR CURRENT STATE
MAP A PATH FORWARDA municipal fiber network can be a daunting project. Without clear and achievable targets, momentum will be lost, and the project can fail.
|Trying to be “everything to everyone” will lead to cost over runs and project failure. Keep your targets and timelines realistic and achievable.||Long-term sustainability and financial feasibility are often overlooked in the planning of municipal broadband networks. Grant funding can help build the network but is generally a front-end, one-time infusion of money.|
VISIONYou need to identify your endpoint before starting your journey.
Almost one third (28%) of respondents to the Project Managements Institute’s “Pulse of the Profession” survey highlight “Inadequate vision/goal for the project” as the primary reason for project failures. (Source: PMI)
What problem(s) are we looking to address? Is there local context to the problem(s) that must be understood?
Who are we looking to solve the problem(s) for? Where are they and how do we reach them?
What areas of a network can a municipality participate in to address the challenges of the target market?
Define the Project Drivers
Drivers will outline the Why
|When defining drivers, start with documenting areas like:|
This can be approached with a team through brainstorming, or external to a team through surveys/interviews, etc.This data can be further refined by utilizing methods such as Affinity Diagraming or explored by using methods such as the 5 Whys.
Info-Tech InsightThe drivers or the “Why” of a project is a key component in assuring alignment with municipal vision and direction as well as securing funding and/or grants.
An affinity diagram (also called the KJ Method) is an activity used to organize large amounts of data into meaningful categories based on themes or natural relationships while reducing social biases.5 Whys
The 5 Whys explores cause and effect relationships by asking the question “Why” five times in order to discover the “root cause” of a problem.
|Drivers for an Internal Network|
Understand the Target Market
|The target market defines Who will benefit|
Defining the target market for a fiber network will help create a scope for the project. If the target market is too large, there is a higher risk of funding issues and longer timelines for delivery. If too many segments of the population are targeted there is risk of trying to be “everything to everyone” and losing project focus.
Understanding the defined target market will allow for better definition of local context for the drivers of the project. Using the target market as a lens to revisit the project drivers, local context for that specific market can be layered to add depth and nuance to the vision.
Info-Tech InsightThe Target Market, or the “Who” of a project, will help limit the scope of the project in order to ensure that our vision is achievable.
|Potential Target Markets for Municipal Fiber Networks:|
Identify the Appropriate Approach
|Approach outlines What will be provided|
Defining what will be provided is required to appropriately plan and cost the future network. The approach must align with the drivers (problem you are solving) and the target market (who you are solving the problem for) in order to generate a coherent vision.
The approach should explore why the municipality deploying a solution in this manner is the best placed entity to solve the issues raised by the drivers for the specified target market.
Info-Tech InsightThe approach can grow or change over time. Ensure that your initial approach addresses current high visibility drivers and target market to increase the project profile and chances of success.
|Potential Approaches for Municipal Fiber Networks:|
|Combine the Why, Who, and What to define a Vision|
The vision should encompass the drivers, target market, and the approach to be taken. Ensure that your vision:
HIGH-LEVEL OPERATING MODELHow you plan to operate can be as hard to design as the technical aspects of the network.
“An operating model translates strategic intent into operational capabilities. It serves as the foundation for execution and provides a clear guide for enterprise leadership team, line managers and operational teams.” (Source: EY)
What type of network will be built? What are the constraints? Who will operate it?
Who makes the decisions? How is authority delegated? How do you balance stakeholder interest with risk mitigation?
Municipal Fiber Deployment Models
|Common Deployment Models|
The most common deployment models for municipalities building fiber networks can be summarized into three main groups:
Each of these groupings has different characteristics as well as different value propositions and risk profiles.
Info-Tech InsightThough these groupings tend to describe the most common deployment models, they are not exhaustive. Other models can be used, or models may be blended, but you will want to ensure simplicity where possible to increase chances of success.
Passive Network Model
In a passive network model, the municipality will facilitate investment in and deployment of passive fiber infrastructure such as ducts and dark fiber. This passive network will be run as a “neutral operator” or “open access” network. Higher-level services in this scenario are generally provided on top of this network by private sector service providers.
Wholesale Network Model
In a wholesale network model, the municipality will deploy and activate (light up) a fiber network. Private sector service providers will purchase connectivity to end users on this network and layer services such as internet connectivity on top. This wholesale network will be run as a “neutral operator” or “open access” network.
Fully Integrated Model
In a fully integrated model, the municipality (or a designated single entity) will deploy and operate a full-service network offering. This offering could consist of private (point to point) as well as public (internet) services. The entire value chain including all surrounding services that promote and support the offering are the responsibility of the municipality (marketing, sales, provisioning, support, etc.).
Other Potential Deployment Models
Governance – Structure & Participants
|Building a Minimum Viable Product|
A minimum viable product for a governance structure demands that you have the answers to the following questions:
Three common structures for Municipal Fiber Networks are:
Participant governed networks are the simplest form of governance. In this form, the participants govern themselves with no unique governance entity. This can take place through regular meetings or simply loosely coordinated efforts.
Lead Org Governed
Lead-organization governed networks can be used when there is a dominant group among the participants. This group can assume the leadership position as it is either a core provider of the services or it controls the flow of key resources.
Administrative Org Governed
With a network administrative organization governance structure, a new entity is formed specifically to govern the network and its activities.
Governance – Areas of Governance
Building a Minimum Viable Product
Governance sets direction through prioritization and decision making and monitors overall performance. In a minimum viable product early governance of a municipal network, though addressing all areas of governance, needs to focus on strategic alignment, resource management, and value delivery.
Governance In Depth
|For a deeper dive on appropriate governance see:||Make Your IT Governance Adaptable|
CURRENT-STATE ASSESSMENTYou don’t have to start from scratch.
“By approving the creation of a city broadband network, ConnectTO will help ensure Torontonians are not being left behind ... The network will be created by using city assets, such as existing fibre assets, buildings, lights, sidewalks, and boulevards, and will be delivered to homes and businesses by a private sector partner.” (Source: City of Toronto)
Take an inventory of existing assets and see if any can be used by, or aid in, the current project.
Many municipalities already have an existing skillset in fiber and/or networking. Identify useful skills and what department they reside in.
You can’t always do it all yourself. What existing relationships or partnerships exist that can aid in the project?
Greenfield deployments are expensive and Brownfield deployments are hard. When planning the build of a municipal fiber network, we must balance a clean implementation of new technology versus reusing and integrating existing assets.
Most municipal fiber networks aren’t built completely greenfield. Before starting down the path of having a cohesive fiber network, many municipalities and their agencies have already invested in some form of fiber deployment that has remaining useful lifespan and has not yet been fully depreciated.
Fiber in the ground is also not the only asset that could aid in the building of a cohesive network. Control of assets to route fiber through or on should also be considered (poles, rights of way, etc.).
Potential Assets to Leverage
Every municipality has many skills internal to its structure that can be utilized in the design, deployment, and or operation of a fiber network. All the required skills that already exist in-house may not be readily apparent, which is why an inventory can be extremely helpful.
If we break the project down in a Plan, Build, Run paradigm, we can see areas of alignment between existing skill sets and those necessary for a fiber network.
Plan: Municipalities plan large infrastructure deployments on a regular basis (roads, water, transit, etc.). The planning and architecture skills relate here.
Build: Once planned, municipalities must deploy large infrastructure as well. Project management and construction skills relate here.
Run: All municipalities operate some form or network connectivity.
Potential Skills to Capitalize on
It is hard to be everything to everyone. Not all skill sets necessarily belong or make sense to have in-house. Building relationships or partnerships to help fill these gaps can greatly accelerate standing up and running a municipal fiber network.
Relationships should be explored both to potentially take advantage of an existing skillset and also to gain access to assets that may aid in the deployment or operation of the network.
Skills like sales and marketing or end user support may be areas that a municipality does not want to invest in developing talent at scale for. Fiber installation and repair can require highly skilled people using specialized tools that the municipality may not want to invest in.
There is often value in specific locations or existing assets that the municipality may not want to acquire or duplicate.
Potential Relationships to Explore
MAP A PATH FORWARDSet yourself up for success.
“There is a history of municipal networks that failed to meet their financial targets, forcing taxpayers and or municipal utility customers to shoulder large financial losses. Organizational skills and financial capabilities are needed to successfully manage complex municipal broadband network projects.” (Source: EM Compass)
How can we best approach constructing what has been designed? What are some tactics to create value quickly/consistently?
Nothing is free. The network has to have viable financials or it will be a drain on the municipality who will have to make up the difference.
Municipal fiber networks are generally large. It is important to set realistic and reasonable goals.
|Dig Once Policy|
In its simplest form, a “Dig Once” policy states that whenever the ground is opened for any work or project, the opportunity must be examined for installing other (potentially unrelated) items. In this case the items would be conduit and / or fiber assets.
Understand the current regulatory environment surrounding fiber and networks in your particular locality. If there are restrictions or hurdles, be prepared to contribute to change by lobbying or joining with relevant groups to advance local interests.
Understand the local telecom landscape and which areas are over/under served. Building in an area that already has many existing providers can greatly impact the usefulness and financial viability of a build.
|Incent Private Industry|
Work with private companies who provide these services in your area to understand the barriers to further investment. Build incentives to overcome the potential barriers or hurdles where possible. These companies may also be open to helping fund required changes to process.
Clearly define standards and guidelines for network buildouts. For fiber, these standards should define things such as conduit/ducting, vault placement, hand wells, etc. When the standards are clearly defined ahead of time, adding to an existing infrastructure project is greatly simplified.
Anchor institutions in the area such as health or educational-related facilities that are generally government related or adjacent agencies located in or near higher-population density areas. Using a “to and through” strategy can help bring connectivity to these key service providers as well as potentially be used as jump-off points to reach other areas.
Align with present and future large infrastructure projects. Large infrastructure projects may require the network as a foundational aspect (transit corridors, smart cities initiatives, etc.), or be opening the ground at an already allocated cost.
Define standards and requirements for fiber infrastructure to be installed in all new builds alongside other required services such as water or electricity.
|Understand the full financial impact and how to appropriately fund it|
Fully and appropriately funding a municipal network over its useful lifespan is often not explored as thoroughly as it should be. Different types of funding are more appropriate for different aspects of the network lifecycle, knowing which to use when is important in ensuring that the build is viewed as an appropriate investment.
In an independent study, a high percentage of municipal broadband networks were found to have issues with demonstrating their ability to pay off the asset within its useful lifespan.* Municipal Fiber in the United States: An Empirical Assessment of Financial Performance
Potential Funding Sources
|Grants||Grants may be available for constructing network assets from a variety of sources. In order to be able to align a project to the available grants, it is important to understand the goals and scope of your project and have it clearly defined. Having a clearly defined project will improve speed of application to available grants.|
|Private Investment||Private investment can take many forms. Partnerships with levels of ownership can be carefully defined. Bonds can be issued that will be repaid over many years with revenue generated from the network to be built. In order to be successful, the ability to show that sufficient future revenues to repay the debt/bond will be required.|
|Tax Based||Special property tax assessments or Tax Increment Financing (TIFs) can be used to fund an initial network build. Bonds can be issued to be repaid with future tax revenues to allow access to large initial sums of money for a network build upfront.|
|Cost Avoidance||When a network build is used to replace existing telecommunications services for the local government, the money that was originally designated to lease circuits can be reinvested to further build out the network.|
Rome wasn’t built in a day; don’t expect your network to be…
Most municipal network projects are considered large relative to the size of the organization undertaking the effort. In order to ensure the smooth and timely execution of these projects it is important to break them down into manageable project components. Once defined, these project components need to be documented and all interdependencies mapped to allow for an understanding of proper prioritization and order during deployment.Breaking the project into manageable components can help…
FundingA project of this size may not be fully funded upfront. By breaking the project down into reasonable components, it is possible that each component can be more easily funded for the fraction of the total overall project cost. This also allows for multiple grants to be used across the components.
Early ValueIf the project is subdivided into manageable components, the initial components will be completed earlier than the overall project would have been. This allows for showing value earlier than would have been achieved had the project been tackled as a whole.
Project MomentumWhen projects take a long time to deploy with little visible movement over time, interest can wane. The results of this can be less excitement for the project, less funding, less of people’s time, etc. When broken into components, each component’s completion will drive the project forward, ensuring momentum and that the project remains top of mind.
AlignmentA large component of the cost in many network installations is the civic work (E.g. digging and repairing ground). When the network project is broken into components, these components can be aligned in time with any other infrastructure projects, potentially saving cost and effort.
Research Contributors and Experts
- Dolan Beckel, Chief of Staff for the City Manager, City of San Jose
- Jerry Driessen, Executive Counselor, Info-Tech Research Group
- Brent Messer, Executive Counselor, Info-Tech Research Group
- Scott Magerfleisch, Executive Counselor, Info-Tech Research Group
“Appendix: PMI 2021 Pulse of the Profession Report.” PMI, n.d. Web.
Chao, Becky et al. “The Cost of Connectivity 2020.” New America, July 15 2020. Accessed Oct. 21 2022
“City council approves program to increase access to affordable high speed internet in Toronto.” City of Toronto, Feb. 5, 2021.
“Community Network Map.” Community Networks. Accessed Oct 21 2022.
“Durham Region Business Case Study for Broadband Municipal Services Corporation (MSC).” Durham Region, September 2 2021. Accessed Oct. 15 2022.
Houngbonon, Georges V. et al. “Municipal Broadband Networks – Opportunities, Business Models, Challenges, and Case Studies.” EM Compass, Note 107, November 2021. Accessed15 Oct. 2022.
Jarque, Carlos et al. “The State of Broadband 2021: People-Centred Approaches for Universal Broadband.” Broadband Commission for Sustainable Development, September 2021. Accessed Oct. 20 2022.
“Municipal Fiber Networks: The Ultimate Guide.” OSPInsight, Accessed Oct. 20 2022.
Murphy, Annie et al. “Operating Models: Delivering on strategy and optimizing processes.” EY, 2016. Accessed Oct. 21 2022.
Yoo, Christopher S. et al. “Municipal Fiber in the United States: An Empirical Assessment of Financial Performance.” University of Pennsylvania Law School, March 2017. Accessed Oct. 20 2022.
Yoo, Christopher S. et al. “Municipal Fiber in the United States: A Financial Assessment.” University of Pennsylvania Law School, January 15 2022. Accessed Oct. 20 2022.