Recently, I participated on a panel at the Annual Meeting of the Schools, Health & Libraries Broadband Coalition, otherwise known as SHLB. The panel was entitled “Building a Broadband Network” and was comprised of experts who discussed the business case for such networks and their design, construction, operation and maintenance. Of no surprise, all of us emphasized three very important points that I thought worth mentioning. Even though to many they may seem obvious, some or all of them are too frequently overlooked.

First, it is imperative to create a business case to determine whether owning a network is the best alternative or whether, for instance, leasing capacity or a combination of both is better. Each alternative, of course, has its pros and cons.

Leasing capacity is easy because someone else, namely, the carrier, does the work for you. On the other hand, it is expensive and limiting, not only by the location and type of capacity offered by the carrier but by the carrier’s acceptable use policy.

Building a broadband network is also expensive, but over the life of the facility, it should prove to be less costly than leasing. Moreover, you can, within certain limits, build where you want to build and create and change the type of capacity that best meets your needs on a spot basis or over the long term. Building a network, however, does not come without its downsides. You will need the expertise to run it; it is not IT, it is networking, which requires a different skill set. You will need to monitor and maintain it; you will need a sparing program to repair and replace parts and equipment; and you will need, at some point, to upgrade both the software and hardware of the network. Second, it is also imperative that as part of the business case, you determine if the network will be sustainable. Third, create a plan. Without a plan the project will quickly get out of hand. One thing is for certain: if you decide to build a network, whether as your sole source of communications or blended with lit capacity, you need to be all in.