Broadband access is a must for Eastern Kentucky counties. In addition to providing opportunities for remote work and economic investment, it’s a driver of population growth in areas like ours.
As we continue the fight against brain drain in our communities, improving broadband access should be a top priority for every county in Eastern Kentucky.
KentuckyWired is a public-private partnership (PPP) that provides 3,300 miles of crucial infrastructure for connectivity across the state. But without last-mile broadband, we can’t bring the internet into all of the Eastern Kentucky households that desperately need it.
Most officials, residents, and business owners are already well aware of the current problem.
To go after a solution, counties need access to proper funding. Winning this type of outside support is key to closing the gap.
That’s where a fiber board comes into play.
Eastern Kentucky communities need to have skin in the game when it comes to their digital futures. The broadband expansion effort needs to start with local leaders who will champion the cause from start to finish.
A fiber board is made up of changemakers who will boldly represent the hopes and dreams of their constituents, neighbors, and customers. They’ll use their capabilities to create meaningful progress and win funding for last-mile implementation.
Establishing a fiber board is the first step towards getting the connectivity our counties need to contribute to today’s digital economy. The work of your fiber board will help retain Eastern Kentucky’s population for years to come.
Without this local component, you’ll always have to be dependent on outside, third parties to get the job done. This isn’t standard operating procedure for any other type of municipal or infrastructure project — water, electric, roads — and it shouldn’t be for broadband, either.
What is a broadband fiber board?
The reasons to form a fiber board are simple:
- A fiber board will help direct broadband efforts where they’re needed most. This will give you the best chances of maximizing the impact of expanded broadband access in your county.
- A fiber board will create a plan to attract funding opportunities. This includes organizing critical resources for funding applications and technology assessments.
- A fiber board will strive to obtain public and private support for its plan. This will call for significant partnership-building efforts across the community.
You’ll need to bring on members of your fiber board who can fulfill some or all of these requirements.
How to set up a fiber board
A broadband fiber board will need to feature a wide range of stakeholders from your county to be successful. You’ll need to plan to source members who are fighting to retain residents and have the know-how to get the work done.
Consider the people who are passionate about bringing economic opportunities to your county. Could they be a good fit for your fiber board?
When assembling your group, you should include:
- Representatives from a variety of industries, such as healthcare and manufacturing
- Residential and commercial landowners
- Local business owners
- Government officials
Follow these tips to set your fiber board up for success from the start.
Tip #1: Every corner of your county should have a seat at the table
You’ll want to invite more than just your county’s most populated towns to sit on the board. Ensuring our most rural residents have representation on the board will help promote last-mile broadband efforts in their areas.
Tip #2: Diversity is a strength
Being thoughtful and inclusive with board selection is worth the effort. Diverse boards make better group decisions and are more likely to succeed in the long run.
Tip #3: Think carefully about how many board members you need
Your fiber board must be action-oriented. Size can be a significant contributor to your output. With too few members, you might not have enough resources to build momentum. With too many members, you might find that you have a hard time finding consensus.
The truth is, there’s no one-size-fits-all number for a fiber board. Your best bet is to strike a balance between representing the diverse interests of your county and remaining nimble as a group.
Tip #4: Set clear expectations for your fiber board’s meeting schedule
You should help potential members understand what they’re committing to when joining the board. This can help attract members who will remain dedicated to championing their county’s digital future.
Your fiber board will need to meet consistently, especially since you’ll want to build momentum when you first start working together.
For example, you might kick off with weekly or bi-monthly meetings to develop an annual plan within the first 1-2 months. This also gives members the chance to get to know each other.
Once you’ve agreed on your plan, you can move forward with a minimum of monthly meetings. This gives members enough time to make a dent in their assigned work, and you can continue to track progress towards the annual plan.
What are the responsibilities of a fiber board?
A fiber board will bear significant responsibilities. They’ll be in charge of organizing a broadband plan to win funding — which is one of the most important opportunities to bring prosperity to Eastern Kentucky right now.
Conducting a feasibility study
A feasibility study provides the data you need to secure broadband funding. A fiber board should oversee this effort from start to finish.
A feasibility study will establish the foundation for your broadband expansion efforts by establishing current network capabilities and understanding resident needs. It will also produce an asset map and inventory of existing resources.
You’ll likely need to hire a third party to perform the feasibility study. Your fiber board can help develop an RFP and evaluate responses to ensure you work with the best possible partner.
Once equipped with the results of your feasibility study, you’ll have most of the data you need to formulate a plan.
Your fiber board will need to evaluate current broadband technology to start planning for implementation. They’ll need to determine the best fit for your county based on cost, performance, availability, and complexity of construction.
From here, the fiber board will need to create an implementation plan for the new broadband lines. This will involve balancing careful decisions that support the greatest areas of need with available resources.
Building community support
Funders want to see that your plan has community buy-in. This will call for solid communicators and relationship-builders to engage with the community regularly.
One of the most important roles your fiber board will play throughout this process is building public and private support for the program.
Public-private partnerships (PPPs) are essential to last-mile broadband efforts. Without public support, telecommunication companies cannot justify the significant costs of installing fiber in remote regions.
Ideally, your board members will help assemble and lead a PPP to carry out your implementation plan effectively.
Creating and reviewing funding applications
Funding applications come with a lot of requirements. Relying on a capable fiber board to support the process will help make everything smoother. The board’s contributions should also increase your chances of winning.
Your fiber board will need to develop facts, figures, and maps to create application materials that tell your story effectively. You’ll also need to demonstrate what local fiber gaps you can fill with broadband funding. This will help prove to funders your plan is attainable and well-designed.
Conclusion: A fiber board will set you up for success
Broadband providers are more likely to bring their services to a county with a well-thought-out plan. It makes sense — they want to make sure a project will be worth their time and investment.
This is also true for broadband funding opportunities. Grantors need to know that you’ve considered the ins and outs of implementation. They’ll also check to see whether you’ve been in close contact with the community throughout the process of creating your plan.
The best way to balance the needs of funders and broadband providers is to form a fiber board. It’s an essential first step towards winning the funding you need to bring internet connectivity to your Eastern Kentucky county. This is especially true as we work together to equalize economic opportunities for our friends and neighbors.
There are too many broadband grant opportunities available right now for you to hesitate.
If you’d like more information on how to set up a fiber board in your county, reach out to the SOAR Innovation team. We have experience with helping communities like yours take the necessary steps to prepare for (and win!) essential broadband funding.