Winning Municipal Business

By Alex Goldman

October 10, 2005

A major ISP just won national attention with a public contract win. Here's what it took to win the first contract, and what's coming next.

For EarthLink, the Philadelphia contract (see EarthLink Scores With Philadelphia) isn't just about starting a new business line. It's also about deploying the latest technology. Cole Reinwand is EarthLink's director of next generation broadband, covering WiMAX, broadband over power lines (BPL), fiber to the home (FTTH), and other technologies.

He's the one who's been doing the long term thinking about municipal services—the company's municipal broadband department is brand new. "As of the last week or two, we now have business units that are skill-based groups, and one of them is focused on municipal deployments," he explains. Prior to that, the company was organized around technology skill sets.

Technology
The Philadelphia project uses edge equipment from Tropos Networks supported by backhaul using Motorola's Canopy product. The backhaul will go to EarthLink's Philadelphia POP, which is located in a Level 3 data center.

"Currently, we believe we'll use mesh Wi-Fi or fixed wireless or a mixture of both in our municipal deployments," says Reinwand. "Philadelphia is a hybrid mesh and fixed wireless deployment."

Bureaucracy
Asked whether the company had to hire anyone specifically for the municipal department, Reinwand notes that each project has its own needs. "We did engage local legal resources in Philadelphia," he says.

Asked about whether bureaucracy is a problem, Reinwand says that the projects EarthLink's looking at have a champion, often someone high up in city government—in the case of Philadelphia, the project was championed by both the current mayor and the former mayor, who is now Pennsylvania's governor.

"We don't sell municipal broadband," says Reinwand. "Cities decide whether or not they want it." This is a business without a cold calling opportunity.

Reinwand says that the biggest challenge in dealing with municipal government is that all filings are public. It's not just pricing, either. EarthLink partnered with Motorola and Tropos to provide a solution, and needed to avoid disclosing the partners' technological secrets.

A bright unwired future
Nevertheless, EarthLink is excited about municipal wireless. Jerry Grasso, EarthLink's director of corporate communications, says the company is looking at forty cities initially.

The key to future success, Reinwand says, is the same as in any part of the ISP business. "We need to drive costs down and performance up."

To that end, we ask a leading question about whether the company could use 700 MHz spectrum (Spectrum Wants to be Free). Reinwand says yes. "We already have a pretty reasonable use of 900 MHz spectrum in our proposals, and 700 MHz has many of the same characteristics. If we had 700 MHz, you would see hardware vendors jump in to accommodate demand, and the ISP industry would benefit as a whole."

Where is EarthLink looking next? "We've made proposals and are in contract negotiations with the city of Anaheim, California," says Reinwand.

Reprinted from ISP Planet.



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