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AppRising delivers insight into new broadband applications, exploring their impact on networks and their implications for public policy.

AppRising is written by Geoff Daily, who covers broadband applications and the business of online video. Based in Washington, DC, Geoff regularly advises applications developers, network operators, community leaders, and public officials on how to maximize adoption and use of the Internet.

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November 9, 2007 10:47 AM

Blogging from Blandin: Tim Nulty Shares Wisdom from Burlington, VT

The first session on yesterday's agenda at the Blandin Broadband Conference was a talk by Tim Nulty, the man behind the fiber build in Burlington, VT. (For a more detailed case study of what he accomplished there, check out this great white paper put out by Chris Mitchell from the Institute for Local Self Reliance.)

He covered a wide range of issues in his remarks, but these were the ones that stuck out to me the most:

- Networks need to be future proof. Now this may sound overly obvious, but the nuance in what he said wasn't that you needed to build a 100Mbps network today, just that when you design your network you need to have a clear technological path for upgrading down the road.

- Networks need to make money. Even if you're a public entity, which Burlington Telecom is, your business plan must prove its capacity to make money. This was especially important for Burlington as Nulty has developed a financing model that's able to build out their network using purely private financing without any city money. And because of his success in this endeavor, he's seeing growing interest among private financiers to get involved with projects like his because they know they can make money off of him.

- Public builds must try their best to run like businesses. Nulty ran through a laundry list of tactics typically ascribed to cutthroat corporate types as being vital for a successful muni build. Like hiring and firing employees, making and breaking contracts, and continually improving to develop efficiencies rarely seen in government. To help facilitate this he recommended not housing the network team in a government agency but instead break them out into a publicly owned corporation.

- Public/private partnerships may not be the answer. It seems like everywhere you turn nowadays someone's talking about how the ultimate solution to broadband deployment are public/private partnerships. But Nulty has his doubts for the simple reason that in his experiences endeavors uniting two entities with differing goals (utility: build to everyone, don't worry about revenue; private: maximize profit) is rarely a recipe for success.

In an area that has seen their best hope for fiber (Verizon) try to divest themselves of the whole state by selling off their network, Nulty has stepped up to champion a new model for public fiber deployment that he believes has the potential to cover every inch of the state before he's done.

He's proven that fiber builds in rural areas can not only be feasible but also successful. And he's now in the process of starting back up the mountain with ValleyNet.

I'm excited to watch as he continues his way across Vermont, leaving fertile communities brimming with bandwidth in his wake.


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Comments (1)

Thanks for the compliment Geoff, I wanted to clarify that Burlington Telecom is a city department, so when it "makes money" that means it puts the excess into the General Fund, which allows the city to offer more services while not raising local taxes. This is pretty significant as states across the country cut aid to cities.

Posted by Christopher Mitchell on November 12, 2007 11:02 AM

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