Many telecom companies and service providers inadvertently contribute some to this mindset. Their marketing messages, operating structure, heavy fixation on churn and ARPU (average revenue per user) elevate the role of individuals in the ROI equation. They do provide services to the business sector, but even here I feel providers' corporate mindset is geared toward individuals who happen to be businesspeople.
The National Telecommunications and Information Administration and the Rural Utilities Service, much to their credit, used the Notice of Funding Available (NOFA) rules and attendant materials to push the concept of institutional customers (anchor tenants) as a key component of applicants' proof that they can financially sustain the networks. From the applications I've seen, a couple of articles I've read and e-mail I've received, it seems some applicants understand that concept. Others, perhaps will when they try again in the next funding round.
Against this backdrop walks in Mr. And Mrs. Gates to drop a short document with big implications on the FCC's desk. To show how much of an impact this made, the FCC quickly set up a public comment process just to evaluate the idea's financial merits. Some folks on Mr. Genachowski's team must take this quite seriously.
Where do we go from here?
Given the Foundation consulting the agency that's responsible for national broadband strategy, and the agency's response, the thinking of the three G's (Gates, Gates and Genachowski) probably is to tackle this idea with a national solution. But what will (should) that solution be?
The first thing coming to mind is that the FCC's broadband strategy will include a recommendation to fund the costs. Possibly they'll suggest it come from Congress as an extension to the broadband stimulus funding. That could be a steep hill to climb, though. Another option is to tack on a billion here, a billion there to programs already funded in the areas of healthcare, education, etc. It's a reach, but maybe they can pry something from Homeland Security while there's still milk in that cow.
I scanned media reports to see if maybe Bill and Melinda Gates might hit up 10 or 11 of their golfing buddies to drop a billion each into an anchor institution fund, but no luck. Treasury Secretary Geithner should consider a similar approach with his bailed out banking buddies. It only seems fair. But I regress. The point to my pointed humor is that it's not such a stretch to imagine giving private sector companies and nonprofit foundations incentives to invest in such a fund.
Perhaps in the short term, the FCC will encourage NTIA/RUS to add or modify some rules in the next round of NOFA funding so there's more emphasis (and specific rewards) for communities to make institutions a main focus of their proposals. This is a fairly mild adjustment and one likely to produce the desired result and get the ball rolling.
All of this national effort will be for naught, however, if there isn't a lot of planning and coordination that happens at the local level. I participated in a FierceWireless Webinar addressing how to effectively execute a broadband strategy centered around anchor institutions, which you can view here.