The Jeuns

Importance of Community Engagement in Developing Public Broadband Networks

May 7, 2024 | by The Jeuns

HOUSTON, May 6, 2024 – Experts in public broadband emphasized the crucial role of community engagement in developing networks during the opening panel at the Broadband Communities conference in Houston, Texas.

Bill Badran, broadband services supervisor for the Holland Board of Public Works in Michigan, stressed the importance of understanding the community’s unique needs before network development. Badran shared insights from Holland’s long-standing fiber broadband service, highlighting the need for an inclusive approach to ensure all community members benefit from public networks.

Gigi Sohn, executive director of the American Association for Public Broadband, underscored the importance of community support, patience, and leadership in navigating network initiatives. Sohn also discussed the financial aspects of building networks, urging the use of state and federal grants to manage financial risks effectively.

Chris Walker, senior executive director of infrastructure strategy at the Northwest Open Access Network (NoaNet), discussed the shift from outsourcing to collaboration among public networks. Walker shared how pooling resources led to reduced costs and sustainable network growth, emphasizing the importance of strategic partnerships.

Kerem Durdag, CEO of Great Works Internet, highlighted the endurance required for sustained network development and the role of strategic partnerships in fostering success. Durdag emphasized the importance of managing community expectations for the health of network projects.

Laura Lewis, principal at LRB Public Finance Advisors, discussed financial strategies for funding public broadband networks, including the use of tax-exempt bonds for infrastructure financing. Lewis pointed out the potential for local governments to utilize bonds without using them to pay directly.

Overall, the panel emphasized the need for community engagement, strategic partnerships, and financial planning in building successful public broadband networks. By tailoring efforts to meet community needs, providing widespread benefits, and collaborating with other networks, communities can ensure sustainable and inclusive access to broadband internet.

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