Rural communities continue to find ways to obtain high-speed, reliable broadband internet, and post-pandemic lifestyles have elevated the need. With virtual learning and remote work, government agencies and schools heavily rely on internet access, and broadband plays a key role. Your town may be exploring the cost and scope of facilitating a broadband project, and as a leader in procurement, you’ve been tasked with identifying the route with the best value.
Planning a broadband infrastructure deployment can be made more strategic and seamless through cooperative purchasing. Your cooperative purchasing organization can help guide and connect you to world-class supplier solutions for your local government’s broadband initiative. With the growing emphasis on improved connectivity in communities across the country, the Biden Administration announced in February that 10 million households had enrolled in the Affordable Connectivity Program, the nation’s largest-ever broadband affordability program.
To help procurement get started on this new utility, your cooperative can help you better align with broadband stakeholders, such as IT directors, city managers, facilities leaders, and others involved in the implementation.
We’ve gathered key elements you need to accomplish your agency’s broadband initiative so your community can deliver reliable, high-speed internet to its citizens, connecting schools, hospitals, government buildings, and more.
Agencies with Successful Broadband Installations
The biggest cost of the network deployment is installation, and the main challenge for procurement can be managing labor and materials throughout the lifetime of the project.
In Arkansas, Clarksville Connected Utilities started by building a core network to connect critical infrastructure – like electric substations and water treatment plants – but included enough fiber to deliver service to the community at large through OMNIA Partners supplier Graybar. Through Graybar’s managed services, they were able to simplify the logistics of delivering broadband.
To learn more about how cooperative contracts streamlined their supply chain bringing broadband on time and on budget, click the video to hear from OMNIA Partners participant Phil Sharps, Manager of Technical Services at Clarksville Connected Utilities.
In south Texas, Hidalgo County brought free public Wi-Fi to 30,000+ rural students and workers through the use of Insight Public Sector cooperative contracts saving four weeks of time. They were able to provide a network design with built-in safety and compliance features to ensure user and business data and privacy are protected. To learn more about their experience, read the full case study here.
Areas of Focus
Your cooperative has established strong relationships with supplier partners who specialize in broadband installation and deployment. A key element when getting started is to connect with IT and facilities stakeholders and understand how much bandwidth your community uses.
To gain insight into what your procurement team can keep in mind as you embark on a broadband project, we spoke to industry expert Jeff Peskuski who serves as Graybar’s Strategic Contract Manager.
"For many entities, this is the first time they’ve taken on this type of project so they don’t have a lot of experience to fall back on internally or externally with other agency peers," says Peskuski. "Technology is also changing at a rapid pace so flexibility is key as you move through the design and implementation stages. To implement an effective solution, all parties need to communicate from start to finish. Using a cooperative contract allows effective communication with necessary partners through the design, engineering, specification, procurement, install, and start-up phases of the project. We all help each other and build a quality solution."
As your procurement team sets out on a quest to narrow the digital divide by delivering fast, reliable, and protected broadband internet, below are areas to turn your attention to:
Time: Avoid delays or challenges associated with the solicitation process by leveraging the RFP process already performed by the cooperative’s lead agency. Spending 3-6 months on the design, specification, and solicitation process in today’s environment may push your project timeline back a year or more. Partnering with a cooperative speeds up the entire process.
Labor: Installers can only perform so much in a day, which sets the timeline for completion. Product delays without the flexibility to move, add or change will halt construction and escalate costs. Using a strategic supplier with a cooperative contract provides flexibility in the process and saves overall costs.
Flexibility: Substitution and change may be necessary to keep a project on schedule and keep contractors working. New products on the market that are more efficient and can reduce time may come into play as well.
Transparency: Cooperative contracts improve visibility and transparency allowing you to ensure and maintain compliance throughout the project.
Trends Across Nation
With virtual learning and remote work such a prominent part of peoples’ lives post-pandemic, expanding broadband access, and improving Wi-Fi connectivity also continue to be frequently-discussed topics in cities and counties across the country.
According to Georgetown University’s FutureEd analysis of financial trends in local schools’ COVID-aid spending, local education agencies are planning to spend over $5 billion in ESSER funds on technology, with a growing emphasis on expanding broadband access. Examining the spending plans of over 3,000 schools across the nation, 10 percent of the total would go toward tech in schools with a national projection of $11 billion by the September 2024 deadline to spend the money.
Streamline Purchasing Process with a Cooperative
The prevalence of broadband internet connection will only strengthen as technology and working/learning environments evolve. Through broadband’s capabilities and advancement, we’re seeing new businesses attracted to different parts of the country creating new jobs and growth for those areas.
Communities beginning their research and planning phases can simplify the entire process through the efficiencies of cooperative contracts. You can also access solicitation and award documentation in the Documentation sections of each awarded agreement and no FOIA or special request is necessary. To learn more or get started, the OMNIA Partners team of certified public procurement officials can answer any questions you may have.