What is rural broadband — and what makes it different from other broadband projects?
First, let’s discuss the fundamentals.
Middle-mile refers to the broadband “interstate” — it connects distant points with high-speed infrastructure. KentuckyWired exemplifies a successful middle-mile project, which brought over 3,000 miles of high-speed, high-capacity fiber optic cable in every county.
Last-mile is concerned with connecting the middle-mile network directly to homes, businesses, schools, and public buildings.
Traditionally, high-speed last-mile infrastructure has been less challenging in densely populated regions, from the cities to suburbs and exurbs. The private sector has solved this problem because the cost ratios made these investments possible.
Our communities have faced different obstacles when pursuing similar broadband projects in rural areas. The most remote towns tucked away in Appalachian Kentucky remain unserved by last mile. Private internet service providers (ISPs) have been unable to sustain the infrastructure installation costs.
After the COVID-19 pandemic highlighted the resulting economic, health, education, and civic disparities in disconnected communities, billions of public dollars were made available to close the rural broadband gap.
Along with this currently unprecedented level of funding, strategic partnerships will be what take rural broadband projects over the finish line. Electric cooperatives offer one possible model. Partnerships with private industries that provide cutting-edge technology are another.
Rajant and Accelecom partnership: Supporting wireless network needs for EKY communities
Rajant is a Morehead-based high-tech product inventor and manufacturer. Its unique Kinetic Mesh® wireless systems deploy networking quickly and reliably in vast areas worldwide.
Accelecom is a statewide ISP fiber optic company with close ties to broadband expansion efforts across the commonwealth. Through a profit-sharing agreement, Accelecom became the exclusive enterprise wholesaler of the KentuckyWired network.
The challenge: 2022 flooding creates an urgent need for connectivity
Amid the emergency response to the catastrophic Eastern Kentucky floods of July 2022, Rajant and Accelecom stepped in to provide resources and infrastructure.
The remote towns impacted by the floods also lacked reliable broadband connections. While healthcare providers, emergency coordinators, local government officials, and flood victims attempted to communicate, mobile networks could not meet capacity needs. Calls were dropped, text messages couldn’t be sent much of the time, and internet browsers were slow to load — if they loaded at all.
The solution: Local business community leaders step up
“The tragic floods of last year were devastating,” said Justin Warren, Rajant Sales Director.
Rajant swiftly stepped in to help provide emergency coordinators, healthcare facilities, and government offices with mesh-powered wireless broadband.
“When the opportunity presented itself to partner with Accelecom to deploy wireless communications in some of the hardest-hit communities, Rajant was ready to do whatever was necessary to make it happen. It was a very humbling experience for me to see firsthand the impact the floods had on those communities as we worked to get our equipment deployed,” added Justin Warren.
Long after the rescue operations subsided, a Rajant/Accelecom partnership continues to enable town and county leadership to tackle high-need problems and chip away at long-term projects.
Today, there is a deal in place for Rajant to provide wireless WAN and public Wi-Fi between government buildings in select areas of Eastern Kentucky. By eliminating the need for costly infrastructure investments, these communities have gained access to critical online resources. They can get to work on behalf of residents still awaiting their at-home broadband connections.
How to plan a rural broadband project
SOAR provides a step-by-step guide to planning your community’s rural broadband project.
Step 1: Form a fiber board
Bring together passionate community members, civic leaders, and representatives from the business community who will commit to championing the process from start to finish. Make sure every corner of your service area has an advocate. Not just the denser towns — but the furthest corners of your town or county. Leave no one behind.
Step 2: Perform a feasibility study and map your service area
Before creating a plan, you must get a sense of where service is available and where it isn’t in your community. You should also find out how well upload and download speeds are performing. Once you determine where speeds are below 100 Mbps, you can pinpoint exactly where you should focus your infrastructure project.
Survey your residents, consult FCC maps, and work with a third party to generate a map that’s as accurate as possible of your service area.
Step 3: Develop a plan
You’ll need to select an implementation method (fiber is the most durable and reliable option), then determine your costs through a budgeting process. Grantors will require you to have an exact number in your funding ask. Most will require a cash or in-kind funding match as well, so you’ll need to identify a source or two.
Even as the costs rack up, be sure not to leave out the most remote residents and businesses from the plan — they should be at the center of your efforts. Many grants offer larger awards for reaching the furthest unserved and underserved residences.
Step 4: Apply for grants
There are more funding opportunities out there for broadband projects than we’ve ever seen before. And they won’t last forever.
To qualify for grants, you have to make yourself known and your needs known. You have to have a solid plan and understanding of your service area. Your short- and long-term goals must be clearly defined.
And remember, partnerships are often the difference between successful projects and failed projects.
Step 5: Establish strategic partnerships with private industry partners (PPPs)
While this step is listed last, you really should be thinking about it from the beginning. Partnerships between the public and private sectors are critical to making broadband happen in rural areas. The private sector can provide the materials, cash, labor, and know-how you need to make your broadband dream a reality.
Download the Broadband Manual for a complete breakdown of this process. It contains easy checklists and step-by-step explanations of the most complex aspects of broadband planning and implementation.
Significant broadband infrastructure funding is available, but you have to take action if you want a shot at winning funds.
For help with the process, download Getting Funded: The 2022 Manual for Writing & Winning Broadband Grants. Reach out to SOAR to learn more about Rajant Corporation and its support for local broadband projects.