Community engagement is key to Louisiana’s broadband strategy: Broadband Breakfast

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WASHINGTON, Sept. 29, 2022 — A new report from digital investment firm Connectivity Capital urges private investment firms to diversify their portfolios and invest more money in locally owned and operated broadband networks around the world.

Examining case studies from 10 communities around the world, the September report suggests that these companies, which often invest in health and environmental projects, put these social progress “impact investment funds” and environment to community connectivity providers. Connectivity Capital is such an investor and has financed projects in Africa, Asia and Latin America.

At a Broadband Breakfast Live Online event on Wednesday, Connectivity Capital Managing Partner Ben Matranga identified two common characteristics of successful community providers: innovation and cost reduction. “Every operator we have listed and the certainty that every operator we invest in is doing something very different,” he said. “When you talk to these operators, they all have a culture of frugality,” he said.

steve song, a telecommunications consultant and policy adviser at Mozilla, argued that community networks are “more than just about connectivity.” He said “in almost every case, you see other kinds of social connections being made as a result of these initiatives.”

Similar stories from around the world

“Around the world we see a remarkably similar story, community connectivity providers often delay or forgo expansion plans due to lack of appropriate capital,” Matranga said in a previous interview with Broadband Breakfast. “This means that more than 3 billion unconnected people around the world are excluded and left behind by the transformative power of the internet.”

Matranga added that he hopes the report will “demystify” the phenomenon of community broadband networks and illustrate best practices from successful CCPs – i.e. cooperatives, municipal networks, small operators, etc. . He said he hoped to encourage more impact investors to fund broadband projects.

“We believe connectivity can be a new and distinct category in impact investing,” Matranga said.

The report comes at a time when several US states have put up roadblocks to municipal broadband construction, although some have rolled back some of those restrictions. The problem with these types of projects, they say, is that they will prevent private competition.

The National Telecommunications and Information Administration, the commerce agency tasked with doling out $42.5 billion to states for broadband builds, said municipal builds should be considered when considering use of federal money.

The reports recommend that policymakers address the needs of different types of CCPs and design a simple and clear regulatory environment in which all can operate. The report also suggests state loans, grants and technical assistance initiatives.

As federal money weighs on states, more digital investment firms are investing in building broadband. For example, a Dutch pension fund manager, APG Group NV, last year bought a 16.7% stake in SiFi Networks, a network builder specializing in open access fibre-to-the-home networks. SiFi has built its “FiberCity” branded projects nationwide and on Thursday announced the start of construction of a citywide network in Kenosha, Wisconsin.

Editor’s note: This story and headline, published on the morning of Wednesday, September 28, under the headline “Private investors can revive community networks, new report suggests”, has been updated to reflect comments made by speakers at the Broadband Breakfast Live Online event at 12 p.m. Noon ET Wednesday.

Our Broadband Breakfast Live Online events take place on Wednesdays at noon ET. Watch the event on Broadband Breakfast or SIGN UP HERE to join the conversation.

Wednesday, September 28, 2022, 12:00 p.m. ET – Community Broadband Funding Mechanisms

In the world of digital infrastructure financing, there often seems to be a “private sector is from Mars” and “non-profits are from Venus” attitude. Conversations were segmented and separated. But a new approach suggests that change is on the way. A report by Connectivity Capital, in association with the Association for Progressive Communication, Internet Society and Connect Humanity, proposes a new paradigm: community connectivity providers. What are they and why are they important? What are the different operational models and examples? What financial mechanisms have been used and how are investors allocating capital to expand broadband access? Join us for a Broadband Breakfast Live chat exploring this new convergence of finance and broadband.

Speakers:

  • Ben MatrangaManaging Partner, Connectivity Capital
  • steve songTelecommunications Consultant and Policy Advisor, Mozilla
  • Jim ForsterGeneral Partner, Connectivity Capital
  • Drew Clark (moderator), editor and publisher, Broadband Breakfast

Panelist Resources:

  • Funding Mechanisms for Locally Owned Internet Infrastructure (webpage) with Resources, Connectivity Capital, Association for Progressive Communication, Internet Society, and Connect Humanity, September 2022
  • Funding Mechanisms for Locally Owned Internet Infrastructure (Google Doc Report), Connectivity Capital, Association for Progressive Communication, Internet Society, and Connect Humanity, September 2022
  • Private investors can jump-start community networks, says new report, Broadband Breakfast, September 28, 2022

Ben Matranga is the managing partner of Connectivity Capital, the world’s first impact investment firm focused exclusively on expanding broadband access in emerging markets. Connectivity Capital manages more than a dozen digital infrastructure investments, including ISPs operating in 16 countries in sub-Saharan Africa and Southeast Asia. Ben has over fifteen years’ experience leading private equity and venture capital investments in emerging markets. Ben was previously Head of Investments at the Soros Economic Development Fund, a $350 million impact investment fund founded by George Soros, where he led a wide range of co-investment transactions with sovereign governments, development finance and institutional investment funds.

steve song is a policy advisor to Mozilla Corporation; a regulatory and access policy consultant to the Association for Progressive Communications; and a research partner with the Network Startup Resource Center. His blog, manypossibilities dot net, is a popular destination for anyone working on African telecommunications and Internet issues. Since 2009, Steve has been actively maintaining public maps of submarine and terrestrial fiber optic infrastructure in Africa. He is also the founder of Village Telco, a social enterprise that manufactured low-cost Wi-Fi mesh VoIP technologies to provide affordable voice and Internet services in underserved areas. Previously, Steve worked at the International Development Research Center (IDRC) where he led the organization’s ICT for Development program in Africa, funding research on the transformative potential of ICT.

In addition to being a general partner at Connectivity Capital, Jim Forster serves as Managing Director of International Network Investments. He has over 35 years of hands-on leadership and technical expertise in networking equipment and Internet infrastructure. He spent more than 20 years at Cisco Systems, beginning in 1988 as the very first Software Development Manager, and becoming a Distinguished Engineer leading various initiatives in the areas of IOS software development, system architecture and business development. He is one of the authors of Wireless Networking in the Developing World, the pioneering guide to building low-cost wireless networking infrastructure in the developing world.

Drew Clark (moderator) is CEO of Breakfast Media LLC, editor and publisher of BroadbandBreakfast.com, and a nationally respected telecommunications attorney. Under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, he led the State Broadband Initiative in Illinois. Now, in light of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act of 2021, Attorney Clark is helping fiber and wireless clients secure financing, identify markets, negotiate the infrastructure and to operate within the public right-of-way.

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