What is ConnectKentucky exactly?

by on May 22, 2008 · 30 comments

connectkentucky-1.jpgI’d like to tap TLF’s incredibly smart readers for some help. Does anyone know what ConnectKentucky is or how it works? If you do, I’d much appreciate you post a comment explaining it. Its website is typified by language like this passage from its homepage:

ConnectKentucky connects people to technology in world-altering ways: improving the lives of the formerly disconnected; renewing hope for previously withering rural communities; driving increases in the number of tech-intensive companies and jobs; and nurturing an environment for lifetime learning, improved healthcare, and superior quality of life. … ConnectKentucky develops and implements effective strategies for technology deployment, use, and literacy in Kentucky, creating both the forum and the incentive for interaction among a variety of people and entities that would not otherwise unite behind common goals and a shared vision. This level of teamwork is making Kentucky a better place for business and a better place to live.

Most press articles about the organization are no better at explaining exactly what it does, and its Wikipedia entry is so-so. The best explanation I’ve found is from an article in the Economist:

Internet service providers could not be sure that there were enough [potential customers] in the Kentucky countryside to justify new investment in cabling or wireless transmitters. But by the end of this year, Mr Mefford boasts, 98% of residents will have access to inexpensive broadband services. This is primarily because of ConnectKentucky’s effort to map broadband demand in communities that didn’t have access, he says, which indicated that enough people in Kentucky farm country would sign up if providers entered the market. At the same time, the organisation also talked up high-speed internet services to sceptical residents, creating demand where it was slack.

Ars Technica also had this useful description:

ConnectKentucky is a public/private partnership that has boosted broadband availability from 60 percent to more than 90 percent in just two and a half years and used mapping techniques to identify current gaps in service. Once those were discovered, the group helped to create a regulatory environment that encouraged private investment, then partnered with companies on a market-driven approach to rolling out new lines, even in rural areas. 80 percent of the funding came from state and federal government agencies, while 20 percent was put up by the companies involved. By the end of this year, 100 percent of Kentucky homes should be able to access broadband of at least 768Kbps.

I’m asking because the program has many times been hailed as a model for other states and for the nation. So here are my questions: What exactly does ConnectKentucky (and its parent Connected Nation) do? How serious is lack of broadband mapping? Is there a market failure here (i.e. why aren’t private parties generating this sort of data)? What sort of changes did it secure “to create a regulatory environment that encouraged private investment”? Why is it up to a mostly government-funded organization to “talk[] up high-speed internet services to sceptical residents”? Who are the private partners in this public-private partnership?

UPDATE: Here is an article by Art Brodsky critical of ConnectKentucky’s origins and effectiveness, and here is CK’s response.

  • http://www.wbklaw.com Michael Sullivan

    According to GigaOM, Connect Kentucky has lost its state funding. http://gigaom.com/2008/04/15/connect-kentucky-gets-disconnected/

  • Adam Thierer

    You’ve read Rob Atkinson’s rebuttal to the Broadsky piece, right?

  • http://www.wbklaw.com Michael Sullivan

    According to GigaOM, Connect Kentucky has lost its state funding. http://gigaom.com/2008/04/15/connect-kentucky-g

  • http://jerrybrito.com Jerry Brito

    Yes, I read the Atkinson rebuttal. It’s published as a comment to the Brodsky piece.

    I’m still hoping someone can explain to me why mapping helps solve the broadband deployment problem and why private broadband companies aren’t making these maps themselves, as well as the other questions in my post.

  • Adam Thierer

    You’ve read Rob Atkinson’s rebuttal to the Broadsky piece, right?

  • http://jerrybrito.com Jerry Brito

    Yes, I read the Atkinson rebuttal. It’s published as a comment to the Brodsky piece.

    I’m still hoping someone can explain to me why mapping helps solve the broadband deployment problem and why private broadband companies aren’t making these maps themselves, as well as the other questions in my post.

  • Adam Thierer

    Drew Clark is big on this stuff. Perhaps he can provide your answer(s).

  • Adam Thierer

    Drew Clark is big on this stuff. Perhaps he can provide your answer(s).

  • http://bennett.com/blog Richard Bennett

    Art Brodsky’s attack on CK was one of the strangest things I ever read. His hatred of AT&T is so intense that Kevin Martin’s relationship with cable companies is a love-in by comparison.

  • http://www.connectednation.org Brian Mefford

    Jerry-
    I haven’t posted here before so want to make sure my earlier comments came through to you. Feel free to respond to my email address if you prefer – bmefford@connectednation.org
    Thanks…Brian

  • http://bennett.com/blog Richard Bennett

    Art Brodsky’s attack on CK was one of the strangest things I ever read. His hatred of AT&T is so intense that Kevin Martin’s relationship with cable companies is a love-in by comparison.

  • http://www.connectednation.org Brian Mefford

    Jerry,
    Glad to help clarify these questions. First, a list of ConnectKentucky (CK) partners is on the web site here (http://www.connectky.org/partners/).

    I hope to clear up any mystery around the question of what we do.

    ConnectKentucky’s roots go back to originally being tapped by the governor of KY at the time (2002) as a 501c3 non-profit research group to conduct research and form strategies to “ensure Kentucky’s readiness to compete in the global economy”. The short story of what was found was that there were foundational issues that needed to be addressed (e.g. bband access, computer ownership, etc.) in order to enable true opportunities of bband that we all understand well (health, education, economic development, entertainment, and so on.)

    At the point that this became broadly understood in KY we set out to design a solution to address these challenges – mainly that there wasn’t enough bband in the state and what was available was severely underused for a number or reasons. We looked around the country to find out what was working and what was not. We pulled from those best practices across the country and created what has since become Connected Nation’s basic model.

    The governor at the time and his successors since favored the public-private approach because it helps ensure the relevancy of the work to those who are making the investment decisions and to those who are the beneficiaries of those investments in ICT. This partnership has encompassed state and local government, academia and industry (all types and sizes of companies). It has included human service agencies and companies as diverse as UPS, Toyota, and Humana, as well as IT and telecom companies of all stripes and sizes.

    Within that frame we identified our goals (all pertaining to increasing access and use of technology) and created a tactical plan. That plan included the need to map (under the heading of “you can’t manage what you don’t measure”) and the need to work at the grassroots to customize local technology plans to achieve the goals first locally and then statewide.

    To your question about maps – they have indeed proven very valuable in helping frame in specific terms the challenges faced which then allows for more effectively targeting the response. Most importantly – the process of gathering all provider data in one place is what allows us to identify the actual gaps in service. Again, to your question as to “can’t the market do this on its own?” – it’s just not common for providers to make data available in one place. As an independent non-profit we provide a place for companies to provide that data because the purpose is not punitive – it is intended to identify the gaps and to help build the business case for investing to extend network footprints. As a provider, one might know exactly what their own service area is but would not likely know what every other provider’s service area is. So, having the data in one place allows for that type of intelligence gathering. In Kentucky, 81 provider companies have submitted data that contributes to the broadband inventory map which is available here: http://www.connectky.org/broadband_landscape/

    That data is available publicly – so all providers and communities have access to the same data and have the same ability to act on it.

    On the demand side, we work with each community to bring together a cross section of the community to identify pent up demand for bband service across various sectors (local gov, education, health, industry, tourism, libraries, agriculture, etc.) This process helps provide a more compelling case to providers along with household data we collect to build the case for extending service in the area to more households (you can see a sample of household data collected here: http://www.connectky.org/_documents/2007KentuckyTechnologyTrends_residential_3-28-08_001.pdf).

    This simultaneous effort on the supply and demand sides is intended to stimulate a market response (i.e. providers decide to extend networks to address pent up demand and the goal of closing the digital divide is closer by a significant step). When that doesn’t happen – we then work with communities to explore more creative options for getting service into the community. For some unserved areas where it was clear there just wasn’t an immediate case for private sector investment, we have written grants and received RUS funding, for instance. For others we have facilitated public-private partnerships (between local government and bband providers) that extend wireless service to unserved areas. We have also designed programs such as one called “No Child Left Offline” which attempts to address a consistently cited barrier related to the cost of computer ownership. (This program in KY puts recycled computers in the homes of children who otherwise could not afford them. In TN we’re providing new laptops to children in foster care.)

    Lots of good things have happened in Kentucky over the last few years as this work has been carried out. Some of the impact certainly would have happened without CK at work – but not all of it. And when states are trying to etch out competitive advantages technologically, every bit of additional margin helps. Kentucky went from 60% household bband availability to 95% in the last 3 years and home broadband use increased by 100% (from 22 to 44%) while computer use increased by 24% (compared to a 4% gain nationally for the same period). The list of dramatic improvements is lengthy and so too are the correlated economic and social benefits (tech job growth, brain drain impacts, etc.) Again, some of this impact would have happened without CK – and the credit all goes to the providers and the communities themselves – but one provider told us that their company had invested 3 times more 3 times faster in KY because the state had demonstrated a committment to the issue of broadband deployment through the support of Connect Kentucky.

    I hope this is a helpfu start to answering your questions and since the length of this post probably violates all blog etiquette – I’ll stop here and can respond to questions as you and your readers may have them.

    Thank you,
    Brian

  • http://www.connectednation.org Brian Mefford

    Jerry-
    I haven’t posted here before so want to make sure my earlier comments came through to you. Feel free to respond to my email address if you prefer – bmefford@connectednation.org
    Thanks…Brian

  • http://www.connectednation.org Brian Mefford

    Jerry,
    Glad to help clarify these questions. First, a list of ConnectKentucky (CK) partners is on the web site here (http://www.connectky.org/partners/).

    I hope to clear up any mystery around the question of what we do.

    ConnectKentucky’s roots go back to originally being tapped by the governor of KY at the time (2002) as a 501c3 non-profit research group to conduct research and form strategies to “ensure Kentucky’s readiness to compete in the global economy”. The short story of what was found was that there were foundational issues that needed to be addressed (e.g. bband access, computer ownership, etc.) in order to enable true opportunities of bband that we all understand well (health, education, economic development, entertainment, and so on.)

    At the point that this became broadly understood in KY we set out to design a solution to address these challenges – mainly that there wasn’t enough bband in the state and what was available was severely underused for a number or reasons. We looked around the country to find out what was working and what was not. We pulled from those best practices across the country and created what has since become Connected Nation’s basic model.

    The governor at the time and his successors since favored the public-private approach because it helps ensure the relevancy of the work to those who are making the investment decisions and to those who are the beneficiaries of those investments in ICT. This partnership has encompassed state and local government, academia and industry (all types and sizes of companies). It has included human service agencies and companies as diverse as UPS, Toyota, and Humana, as well as IT and telecom companies of all stripes and sizes.

    Within that frame we identified our goals (all pertaining to increasing access and use of technology) and created a tactical plan. That plan included the need to map (under the heading of “you can’t manage what you don’t measure”) and the need to work at the grassroots to customize local technology plans to achieve the goals first locally and then statewide.

    To your question about maps – they have indeed proven very valuable in helping frame in specific terms the challenges faced which then allows for more effectively targeting the response. Most importantly – the process of gathering all provider data in one place is what allows us to identify the actual gaps in service. Again, to your question as to “can’t the market do this on its own?” – it’s just not common for providers to make data available in one place. As an independent non-profit we provide a place for companies to provide that data because the purpose is not punitive – it is intended to identify the gaps and to help build the business case for investing to extend network footprints. As a provider, one might know exactly what their own service area is but would not likely know what every other provider’s service area is. So, having the data in one place allows for that type of intelligence gathering. In Kentucky, 81 provider companies have submitted data that contributes to the broadband inventory map which is available here: http://www.connectky.org/broadband_landscape/

    That data is available publicly – so all providers and communities have access to the same data and have the same ability to act on it.

    On the demand side, we work with each community to bring together a cross section of the community to identify pent up demand for bband service across various sectors (local gov, education, health, industry, tourism, libraries, agriculture, etc.) This process helps provide a more compelling case to providers along with household data we collect to build the case for extending service in the area to more households (you can see a sample of household data collected here: http://www.connectky.org/_documents/2007Kentuck…).

    This simultaneous effort on the supply and demand sides is intended to stimulate a market response (i.e. providers decide to extend networks to address pent up demand and the goal of closing the digital divide is closer by a significant step). When that doesn’t happen – we then work with communities to explore more creative options for getting service into the community. For some unserved areas where it was clear there just wasn’t an immediate case for private sector investment, we have written grants and received RUS funding, for instance. For others we have facilitated public-private partnerships (between local government and bband providers) that extend wireless service to unserved areas. We have also designed programs such as one called “No Child Left Offline” which attempts to address a consistently cited barrier related to the cost of computer ownership. (This program in KY puts recycled computers in the homes of children who otherwise could not afford them. In TN we’re providing new laptops to children in foster care.)

    Lots of good things have happened in Kentucky over the last few years as this work has been carried out. Some of the impact certainly would have happened without CK at work – but not all of it. And when states are trying to etch out competitive advantages technologically, every bit of additional margin helps. Kentucky went from 60% household bband availability to 95% in the last 3 years and home broadband use increased by 100% (from 22 to 44%) while computer use increased by 24% (compared to a 4% gain nationally for the same period). The list of dramatic improvements is lengthy and so too are the correlated economic and social benefits (tech job growth, brain drain impacts, etc.) Again, some of this impact would have happened without CK – and the credit all goes to the providers and the communities themselves – but one provider told us that their company had invested 3 times more 3 times faster in KY because the state had demonstrated a committment to the issue of broadband deployment through the support of Connect Kentucky.

    I hope this is a helpfu start to answering your questions and since the length of this post probably violates all blog etiquette – I’ll stop here and can respond to questions as you and your readers may have them.

    Thank you,
    Brian

  • http://jerrybrito.com Jerry Brito

    Brian,

    Thanks so much for taking the time to engage us and answer my questions. Below I have a few more and I hope you will indulge me. ConnectKentucky sounds very promising and seems to be taking a sensible approach to encouraging broadband deployment. As a policy wonk, though, I love to get into the details!

    When you say “tapped by the governor” do you mean that you were an existing non-profit engaged in rural broadband work, or was the organization created specifically for the purpose of being tapped. I really don’t have a value judgment on it either way, but what I’d like to know is whether ConnectKentucky existed with a plan that it convinced the governor to adopt and thus tap it, or whether the governor came up with the plan and decided that it would work best housed in a non-profit.

    You mention that you looked around the country for what was working and eventually developed “Connected Nation’s basic model.” You also mention a “tactical plan.” Is there a white paper or other document that details, specifically, that model. Not just lays out the goals, but in detail lays out the step-by-steps? I’d love to see something like that.

    I’d like to drill down a bit more on the mapping question since it seems to be key to the success of CK. Is my understanding correct that one of the major roadblocks to broadband deployment is that providers don’t know where there are gaps—where there is unserved demand—and that CK solves this information problem by identifying and publicizing the gaps? If so, that’s a very valuable service, but I’m still not sure why it took a CK-type org to create that information. Have broadband providers tried to create the information before CK? Is there no trade association or other similar forum where providers could share information to generate the maps? Bottom line is that I’d like to be shown why a government funded group like CK is not just sufficient but also necessary to identify for private providers where there is demand for their services.

    A couple other minor questions about the maps: Do they show not just how many providers are in an area, but who those providers are? Also, is there a minimum speed that CK considers broadband? Do the maps show the speeds available in a given area?

    On the demand side, the household data you collect is very useful and can certainly help make the business case for broadband. I’m curious, though, do providers not conduct this research on their own? I’d also like to know whether part of the demand-side effort is to not just measure unserved demand, but also to “drum up” demand? Would you say that’s the case?

    Brian, thanks again for your time. I also encourage readers to post any questions they might have since we have Brian’s attention.

    Best,
    Jerry

  • http://jerrybrito.com Jerry Brito

    Brian,

    Thanks so much for taking the time to engage us and answer my questions. Below I have a few more and I hope you will indulge me. ConnectKentucky sounds very promising and seems to be taking a sensible approach to encouraging broadband deployment. As a policy wonk, though, I love to get into the details!

    When you say “tapped by the governor” do you mean that you were an existing non-profit engaged in rural broadband work, or was the organization created specifically for the purpose of being tapped. I really don’t have a value judgment on it either way, but what I’d like to know is whether ConnectKentucky existed with a plan that it convinced the governor to adopt and thus tap it, or whether the governor came up with the plan and decided that it would work best housed in a non-profit.

    You mention that you looked around the country for what was working and eventually developed “Connected Nation’s basic model.” You also mention a “tactical plan.” Is there a white paper or other document that details, specifically, that model. Not just lays out the goals, but in detail lays out the step-by-steps? I’d love to see something like that.

    I’d like to drill down a bit more on the mapping question since it seems to be key to the success of CK. Is my understanding correct that one of the major roadblocks to broadband deployment is that providers don’t know where there are gaps—where there is unserved demand—and that CK solves this information problem by identifying and publicizing the gaps? If so, that’s a very valuable service, but I’m still not sure why it took a CK-type org to create that information. Have broadband providers tried to create the information before CK? Is there no trade association or other similar forum where providers could share information to generate the maps? Bottom line is that I’d like to be shown why a government funded group like CK is not just sufficient but also necessary to identify for private providers where there is demand for their services.

    A couple other minor questions about the maps: Do they show not just how many providers are in an area, but who those providers are? Also, is there a minimum speed that CK considers broadband? Do the maps show the speeds available in a given area?

    On the demand side, the household data you collect is very useful and can certainly help make the business case for broadband. I’m curious, though, do providers not conduct this research on their own? I’d also like to know whether part of the demand-side effort is to not just measure unserved demand, but also to “drum up” demand? Would you say that’s the case?

    Brian, thanks again for your time. I also encourage readers to post any questions they might have since we have Brian’s attention.

    Best,
    Jerry

  • http://www.connectednation.org Brian Mefford

    Glad to spend the time. I’ve said in various places that we welcome the analysis and even critique – it’s a natural part of increased exposure in the realm of things that impact telecom policy. Just glad to have the opportunity to engage in a real dialogue.

    First question – ConnectKentucky was initially a project of our original 501c3 which was founded as the Center for information Technology Enterprise (CiTE). CiTE was founded as an academic initiative that was intended to use the academic expertise of Kentucky’s university IT faculty to assist traditional industrial companies to integrate technology into their operations. (You asked).

    At about the same time this group got legs, the governor at the time, Paul Patton, was the chair of NGA – and it was the year of the “new economy” initiative. As he came back to KY from NGA’s annual meeting he tapped CiTE to conduct the initial research and strategy development around ensuring Kentucky’s readiness to compete in the “new economy”. Private companies were brought together with public agencies to develop a comprehensive and private-sector-relevant research agenda and the project was dubbed ConnectKentucky.

    A little more than a year later, the challenges were clear (not enough broadband coverage, low tech literacy, low adoption). At that time we decided that the mission of “connecting Kentucky” should be the organization’s sole objective and thus the organization adopted the name of the project and the c3 assumed the name ConnectKentucky.

    The singular focus on overcoming the state’s broadband challenges resulted in the key improvements that are often cited. With those improvements came calls from other states to come and share ideas and provide consulting services. In order to respond to those requests appropriately, we launched Connected Nation in January 2007. Since then, we have engaged on some level with the majority of states in the nation with interest in one or more of the components of our work.

    Jerry wrote: You mention that you looked around the country for what was working and eventually developed “Connected Nation’s basic model.” You also mention a “tactical plan.” Is there a white paper or other document that details, specifically, that model. Not just lays out the goals, but in detail lays out the step-by-steps? I’d love to see something like this.

    That’s valuable information ? Seriously, this type of document has remained such a living document that it’s somewhat different wherever we’re working. Our mapping work, for instance, involves a process that engages every individual provider in a given area – developing a relationship that establishes enough trust to share data and to work closely together to build the necessary business case for expanding network footprints (or investing in new areas altogether). We gather primary household data and other qualitative data. We work with state and local stakeholders to frame the challenge and develop a plan based on what the data and facts on the ground tell us. And then we work locally to implement the plans that will achieve statewide goals. What you refer to is something that we develop as a customized plan for every individual community. These are all available on a given state’s web site – at ConnectKentucky there are more than 100 unique local plans that are available for perusal.

    Jerry wrote: I’d like to drill down a bit more on the mapping question since it seems to be key to the success of CK. Is my understanding correct that one of the major roadblocks to broadband deployment is that providers don’t know where there are gaps—where there is unserved demand—and that CK solves this information problem by identifying and publicizing the gaps? If so, that’s a very valuable service, but I’m still not sure why it took a CK-type org to create that information. Have broadband providers tried to create the information before CK? Is there no trade association or other similar forum where providers could share information to generate the maps? Bottom line is that I’d like to be shown why a government funded group like CK is not just sufficient but also necessary to identify for private providers where there is demand for their services.

    Yes is the short answer to this question – what you’ve laid out is the correct assessment. The key though is that we’re an independent non-profit org – not a government agency. When government agencies have tried to do what we do it has failed pretty much universally (as far as I’m aware). Traditional trade associations are relatively siloed – our work spans all types of providers since we’re technology neutral. We work with any willing provider that’s interested in expanding into unserved areas.

    Another key is that we engage in what some refer to as “purpose driven data gathering.” Other words – we’re not mapping coverage to create grounds for punitive measures. We map service areas and explore demand side barriers in order to help build the business case for investment. We identify gaps and focus our resources there primarily. At the same time, we work to drum up demand for broadband across the board. As companies realize better adoption rates where they’ve already invested then dollars are freed up to make new investments in yet served locations. We have heard from providers consistently, “we’re willing to talk to you about expanding our networks but first let’s talk about the 10% adoption rates we have in places we’ve already invested.” Other words – once sunk investments have positive returns then it’s more palatable to discuss new investments.

    From our experience, this scenario requires an independent non-profit that can carry the trust of providers regardless of type or size and also to work within any given community as a trusted entity working with community development motives.

    Regarding the mapping specifically, the value is in collecting the data in a single place. An individual provider knows where they serve – they don’t know where everyone else serves. The gathering of the data in a single place is what allows for the creation of a gap analysis. Similarly, as an independent non-profit group, we can gather quantitative and qualitative demand side data at the local level that can establish common goals for communities and providers. Generally, there are few for-profit companies that can afford to work at the granular level where we engage. There have been cases where we have literally gone door to door to determine and even drum up interest in broadband. That type of hands on work goes a long way to building a business case for investment but it’s impractical for a profit making entity – particularly in areas that are so sparsely populated.

    Jerry wrote: A couple other minor questions about the maps: Do they show not just how many providers are in an area, but who those providers are? Also, is there a minimum speed that CK considers broadband? Do the maps show the speeds available in a given area?

    We publish the maps in various forms in order to address different questions. Mainly, we publish state maps that have county level cuts that show household density and household numbers in unserved areas. That data in itself can provide a compelling case for new investment – essentially identifying “low hanging fruit” for providers – effectively identifying that a particular unserved area has x number of households unserved. Our follow on household surveys can further qualify the level of interest and even price sensitivity (as well as other barriers) in those areas.

    The most interactive versions of our maps can be analyzed in numerous ways – so yes, you can see different providers for specific areas. We also map other relevant data such as planned water and road projects which provides an indicator of future population growth and further assists in budgeting for future investment. Additionally, we map “vertical assets” such as cell towers and water towers that we can then use for wireless propagation analysis.

    Early on we made the decision to not set an arbitrary definition of broadband – so essentially, we’re mapping all service that providers are promoting as broadband. (I say “arbitrary” because working locally, we have seen that one person’s value equation for a particular internet speed and price is much different from the next person’s).

    We follow that mapping up with speed tests, in partnership with CWA, in order to gauge network speed from the end user perspective. In Kentucky, the average speed mapped is above 1.5 mb and in Tennessee the average is above 3 mb, for instance.

    Jerry wrote: On the demand side, the household data you collect is very useful and can certainly help make the business case for broadband. I’m curious, though, do providers not conduct this research on their own? I’d also like to know whether part of the demand-side effort is to not just measure unserved demand, but also to “drum up” demand? Would you say that’s the case?

    Yes – the purpose of our household data gathering is to identify barriers to adoption which can lead to strategies that address those barriers which ultimately helps us to “drum up” demand for broadband. Additionally, our local work on the ground helps us identify community specific avenues for promoting the value of broadband. This spans multiple sectors and will lead us to promote locally relevant content and applications that are best accessed via broadband (e.g. a school district may launch a teacher-parent communication tool that we will promote within a community as a reason to invest in broadband in the home).

    Again, providers can do this type of work on their own but our focus is on reducing barriers to entry to markets that have previously been unprofitable to serve. That requires a great deal of grass roots effort and extensive data gathering. For instance, our household surveys in Kentucky encompass a sample size greater than 10,000 households. That’s an expensive endeavor, but with a public utility mission, we can share the results of that exercise across every community and every provider in the state and there’s a compelling value proposition for these activities that lead ultimately to investment in networks and to increased use of available services.

    Jerry wrote: Brian, thanks again for your time. I also encourage readers to post any questions they might have since we have Brian’s attention.

    Appreciate the opportunity to respond…
    Brian

  • http://www.connectednation.org Brian Mefford

    Glad to spend the time. I’ve said in various places that we welcome the analysis and even critique – it’s a natural part of increased exposure in the realm of things that impact telecom policy. Just glad to have the opportunity to engage in a real dialogue.

    First question – ConnectKentucky was initially a project of our original 501c3 which was founded as the Center for information Technology Enterprise (CiTE). CiTE was founded as an academic initiative that was intended to use the academic expertise of Kentucky’s university IT faculty to assist traditional industrial companies to integrate technology into their operations. (You asked).

    At about the same time this group got legs, the governor at the time, Paul Patton, was the chair of NGA – and it was the year of the “new economy” initiative. As he came back to KY from NGA’s annual meeting he tapped CiTE to conduct the initial research and strategy development around ensuring Kentucky’s readiness to compete in the “new economy”. Private companies were brought together with public agencies to develop a comprehensive and private-sector-relevant research agenda and the project was dubbed ConnectKentucky.

    A little more than a year later, the challenges were clear (not enough broadband coverage, low tech literacy, low adoption). At that time we decided that the mission of “connecting Kentucky” should be the organization’s sole objective and thus the organization adopted the name of the project and the c3 assumed the name ConnectKentucky.

    The singular focus on overcoming the state’s broadband challenges resulted in the key improvements that are often cited. With those improvements came calls from other states to come and share ideas and provide consulting services. In order to respond to those requests appropriately, we launched Connected Nation in January 2007. Since then, we have engaged on some level with the majority of states in the nation with interest in one or more of the components of our work.

    Jerry wrote: You mention that you looked around the country for what was working and eventually developed “Connected Nation’s basic model.” You also mention a “tactical plan.” Is there a white paper or other document that details, specifically, that model. Not just lays out the goals, but in detail lays out the step-by-steps? I’d love to see something like this.

    That’s valuable information ? Seriously, this type of document has remained such a living document that it’s somewhat different wherever we’re working. Our mapping work, for instance, involves a process that engages every individual provider in a given area – developing a relationship that establishes enough trust to share data and to work closely together to build the necessary business case for expanding network footprints (or investing in new areas altogether). We gather primary household data and other qualitative data. We work with state and local stakeholders to frame the challenge and develop a plan based on what the data and facts on the ground tell us. And then we work locally to implement the plans that will achieve statewide goals. What you refer to is something that we develop as a customized plan for every individual community. These are all available on a given state’s web site – at ConnectKentucky there are more than 100 unique local plans that are available for perusal.

    Jerry wrote: I’d like to drill down a bit more on the mapping question since it seems to be key to the success of CK. Is my understanding correct that one of the major roadblocks to broadband deployment is that providers don’t know where there are gaps—where there is unserved demand—and that CK solves this information problem by identifying and publicizing the gaps? If so, that’s a very valuable service, but I’m still not sure why it took a CK-type org to create that information. Have broadband providers tried to create the information before CK? Is there no trade association or other similar forum where providers could share information to generate the maps? Bottom line is that I’d like to be shown why a government funded group like CK is not just sufficient but also necessary to identify for private providers where there is demand for their services.

    Yes is the short answer to this question – what you’ve laid out is the correct assessment. The key though is that we’re an independent non-profit org – not a government agency. When government agencies have tried to do what we do it has failed pretty much universally (as far as I’m aware). Traditional trade associations are relatively siloed – our work spans all types of providers since we’re technology neutral. We work with any willing provider that’s interested in expanding into unserved areas.

    Another key is that we engage in what some refer to as “purpose driven data gathering.” Other words – we’re not mapping coverage to create grounds for punitive measures. We map service areas and explore demand side barriers in order to help build the business case for investment. We identify gaps and focus our resources there primarily. At the same time, we work to drum up demand for broadband across the board. As companies realize better adoption rates where they’ve already invested then dollars are freed up to make new investments in yet served locations. We have heard from providers consistently, “we’re willing to talk to you about expanding our networks but first let’s talk about the 10% adoption rates we have in places we’ve already invested.” Other words – once sunk investments have positive returns then it’s more palatable to discuss new investments.

    From our experience, this scenario requires an independent non-profit that can carry the trust of providers regardless of type or size and also to work within any given community as a trusted entity working with community development motives.

    Regarding the mapping specifically, the value is in collecting the data in a single place. An individual provider knows where they serve – they don’t know where everyone else serves. The gathering of the data in a single place is what allows for the creation of a gap analysis. Similarly, as an independent non-profit group, we can gather quantitative and qualitative demand side data at the local level that can establish common goals for communities and providers. Generally, there are few for-profit companies that can afford to work at the granular level where we engage. There have been cases where we have literally gone door to door to determine and even drum up interest in broadband. That type of hands on work goes a long way to building a business case for investment but it’s impractical for a profit making entity – particularly in areas that are so sparsely populated.

    Jerry wrote: A couple other minor questions about the maps: Do they show not just how many providers are in an area, but who those providers are? Also, is there a minimum speed that CK considers broadband? Do the maps show the speeds available in a given area?

    We publish the maps in various forms in order to address different questions. Mainly, we publish state maps that have county level cuts that show household density and household numbers in unserved areas. That data in itself can provide a compelling case for new investment – essentially identifying “low hanging fruit” for providers – effectively identifying that a particular unserved area has x number of households unserved. Our follow on household surveys can further qualify the level of interest and even price sensitivity (as well as other barriers) in those areas.

    The most interactive versions of our maps can be analyzed in numerous ways – so yes, you can see different providers for specific areas. We also map other relevant data such as planned water and road projects which provides an indicator of future population growth and further assists in budgeting for future investment. Additionally, we map “vertical assets” such as cell towers and water towers that we can then use for wireless propagation analysis.

    Early on we made the decision to not set an arbitrary definition of broadband – so essentially, we’re mapping all service that providers are promoting as broadband. (I say “arbitrary” because working locally, we have seen that one person’s value equation for a particular internet speed and price is much different from the next person’s).

    We follow that mapping up with speed tests, in partnership with CWA, in order to gauge network speed from the end user perspective. In Kentucky, the average speed mapped is above 1.5 mb and in Tennessee the average is above 3 mb, for instance.

    Jerry wrote: On the demand side, the household data you collect is very useful and can certainly help make the business case for broadband. I’m curious, though, do providers not conduct this research on their own? I’d also like to know whether part of the demand-side effort is to not just measure unserved demand, but also to “drum up” demand? Would you say that’s the case?

    Yes – the purpose of our household data gathering is to identify barriers to adoption which can lead to strategies that address those barriers which ultimately helps us to “drum up” demand for broadband. Additionally, our local work on the ground helps us identify community specific avenues for promoting the value of broadband. This spans multiple sectors and will lead us to promote locally relevant content and applications that are best accessed via broadband (e.g. a school district may launch a teacher-parent communication tool that we will promote within a community as a reason to invest in broadband in the home).

    Again, providers can do this type of work on their own but our focus is on reducing barriers to entry to markets that have previously been unprofitable to serve. That requires a great deal of grass roots effort and extensive data gathering. For instance, our household surveys in Kentucky encompass a sample size greater than 10,000 households. That’s an expensive endeavor, but with a public utility mission, we can share the results of that exercise across every community and every provider in the state and there’s a compelling value proposition for these activities that lead ultimately to investment in networks and to increased use of available services.

    Jerry wrote: Brian, thanks again for your time. I also encourage readers to post any questions they might have since we have Brian’s attention.

    Appreciate the opportunity to respond…
    Brian

  • david m

    you really should not have removed enigma foundry’s posts!

    Cowards!

  • david m

    you really should not have removed enigma foundry’s posts!

    Cowards!

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