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Why Build Open Access Networks

by Fletcher Kittredge, CEO GWI

GWI wants to offer superior broadband to all Maine citizens and businesses. Superior broadband is very fast, very reliable, very secure, and affordable which means it is fiber-based broadband. We want to get gigabit+ fiber networks which we can use built to the whole towns, municipalities and counties. To use the networks we need to either own those networks or have the networks be open access, dark fiber networks. For that reason, we will help any municipality plan, design, fund, built, and operate their network as long as it is open access, dark fiber, because we can then rent fiber from the municipality to serve our customers in that town. Our willingness to work with towns is not pure altruism nor mysterious: on the most basic level we want to make sure a network we can use gets built. To reach that goal we are willing to open up our network and sell to our competitors. If we and the municipalities are both open access, then cooperating with municipalities means we can build a larger, more effective open market which then means the municipalities and GWI will sell more dark fiber (to our competitors).

On a less basic, more subtle level: what we are trying to do is create a world without monopolies and then do the best job at competing on a level playing field. To do a good job of competing we want to: a) get a keen understanding as to what the customers want, b) produce the most value from the network,  and c) create a “brand of trust.” A “brand of trust” means our customers and potential customers believe we will treat them fairly. We think of it as being “the anti-cable company.” In a competitive market, if we earn a high level of trust then we will get our fair share of the market.

We also recognize that the community is a customer of a network independent of the individual consumers and businesses that make up that community. For example, if a town has universal fiber service so that the town’s school system can count on every student having very fast, very reliable, and very secure network access, then the school can teach students in new and wonderful ways. Another example: if the local healthcare providers can count on universal service, then superior healthcare can be delivered at lower cost in homes and businesses. Serving community needs creates great value in addition to the value of serving individual consumers and businesses.

We believe that by working closely with communities, we can build trust, understand the needs of the community, and get the information we need to make the best decisions on how to design the network. If we build the network ourselves and have the ability to work with the municipalities, we will do a better job. If the community builds the network and we are able to work with them, we have a higher degree of confidence that the community will build a network we can then rent to provide superior service.

Taking into account the communities we serve into our day-to-day decision making process is incredibly important to us and we hope to announce in the next several months a business initiative we are enormously proud of to demonstrate this commitment. Enabling open access, working together on digital inclusion so that all residents can afford access, and collaborating on digital literacy programs so that residents and businesses can make the most of the network are ways we will contribute to the vitality of the communities.

As we build infrastructure and networks, in order to make the network useful, we are very interested in the community’s opinions before and after the build; we don’t want to build a network no one uses. So over time we will ask for guidance from the citizens and communities. If a municipality has concrete plans to build a network we can use, we will not build in that town and will coordinate with that municipality to communicate the benefits of having open access networks. If a municipality or town is looking at us a partner to build a network, we will work with the citizens as we create an open access network for all. No matter what, we are part of a community and we are going to do this together.

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