As one expert recently put it, “it has become apparent that the need for access to high speed broadband service is no less important for the success and survival of rural areas today than electricity was more than 75 years ago.” Yet reports from 2018 show that at least 6.3 million households lacked access to broadband connectivity, despite being located in co-op service areas.

So you know you need to provide broadband to your community. Your members are demanding it. You know it brings significant opportunity and growth to your area. You have completed your feasibility study and presented to your board. You have approval for a pilot program. You know it will be a lot of work. But what’s next? Where do you even start?

Plan for Success

Providing broadband service – especially for those adding “fiber to the home” as a new service offering – requires planning, building, and maintaining a complex network of fiber optic cable and networking equipment. In addition to their current jobs, your people will need to learn to manage new technology with new tools. To ensure excellent connectivity to your membership, you will need visibility into who is receiving your service, where they receive it, and all the network equipment used to provide it to every individual member.

One of the common mistakes we see is when providers fail to have an adequate fiber management system in place before they begin major network build-outs. Distracted by implementation and training, providers fail to have all eyes on their fiber builds, leading to missed deadlines, delayed ROIs, and disgruntled customers who are eager to have a reliable broadband connection.

Find the Right Tools

To accomplish the above, you are already aware that you’ll need some additional software tools to manage your new fiber network. As you evaluate what solution is right for your organization, here are some key business needs to address and consider in your decision:

1. Network design and planning tools that guide construction to maximize your return on investment.
Where should you build next to provide service to the most members? What anchor tenants are along the way? How much will these builds cost? Look for network planning and revenue generation tools that allow you to make confident and informed decisions on how, when, and where to build out your network, complete with construction cost estimates, take rates, and average revenue per user (ARPU) projections.

2. Fiber tracking that reports and manages how each fiber strand is utilized in your network.
What customers are assigned on what strands? Where are your leased strands or key infrastructure circuits? Are any strands damaged? Some solutions on the market have  added fiber tools on top of a platformed designed to manage other kinds of asset networks, while others have been designed intentionally around fiber management. Look for purpose-built fiber tools designed around the best practices used by current providers to manage their fiber networks.

3. Fast or real-time insight into service interruptions and outages.
Who is affected by fiber cuts, storm damage, equipment failures, or equipment replacements? Look for integrations with your Element Management System (EMS) to monitor equipment alarms, which will report problems back to your team with data vital to a speedy resolution. For co-ops committed to providing their communities with transparent communication and efficient network fixes, these capabilities are absolutely essential.

4. Visibility of your fiber assets alongside your existing electric assets and member data.
Adding additional systems-of-record can introduce confusion and create new barriers to operational efficiency.  That is, unless, those systems sync with a reliable, automated integration. Look for systems that can serve as the central interface of critical information and are able to integrate directly with the systems you’re currently using. This is true especially for the GIS systems already handling your electric assets. By ensuring your team can see and manage everything they need in one place, you improve operational efficiency and lighten the workload of expanding your service offerings.

What’s Next?

If you’ve already started your fiber build-out, don’t waste any time: you absolutely need a way to manage your newest – and possibly most valuable – asset. We advise you to start that process sooner rather than later.

If you’re just now considering a pilot fiber program or have recently applied for funding, again: don’t waste any time! You have a fantastic opportunity to run your fiber network with the right management tools from day one.

Whether you’re curious about how M4 Solutions’ network visualization, fiber management, or revenue generation tools can help you bring your entire organization’s systems and data into sync, or you’re simply curious about how all of these tools fit into the bigger picture of fiber network management, contact us today and we’ll be happy to help!

Better yet – join us for an upcoming webinar on Thursday, September 12! We’ll discuss the challenges facing electric cooperatives venturing into providing broadband service. We’ll also show you our approach for designing, building, and managing a broadband network that maximizes ROI. 

We are offering the webinar at 3 convenient times: 10:30 AM ET, 1:00 PM ET, and 2:30 PM ET. If none of those work for you, register anyway and we’ll send you the recording to view later.