Government Technology

States Must Share Intranet Bandwidth With Local Governments for Higher Speeds and Big Savings (Opinion)



September 24, 2009 By

I attended a broadband summit where the keynote speaker began with a question: "Who has enough bandwidth?" A few of the several hundred attendees sheepishly raised a hand, but many more started laughing or whispering to colleagues with an irritated look of disbelief. The fact is, most crave higher LAN and WAN speeds, and the public sector is no exception. Despite a steady drop in prices, public CIOs can't keep up with the growing demand from customers and their new, bandwidth-hungry applications.

From deploying VoIP to offering online training or other cloud-based solutions, Internet and intranet use is exploding. Oftentimes, government networks have fiber backbone connectivity with high-speed LANs for their central offices and headquarters, while regional or remote offices are connected with T1 (1.544 Mbps) or slower pipes. Worse yet, some government sites are still using dial-up connections while they wait for broadband stimulus dollars to transform rural America. Employees even complain that their home networks are faster than their Internet connectivity at work.

What's to be done with shrinking technology budgets? For decades we've known that bundling bandwidth can save dollars. As prices fall, the simple telecommunication math showed that a T3 line (44.736 Mbps) costs between three and six times as much as a T1 line, but offers almost 30 times the capacity, according to Michael Lemm, owner of FreedomFire Communications, a voice and data firm. But the bundling math continues to improve. Recently Michigan signed a contract with AT&T, which offers 500 Mbps pipes between numerous locations for less than four times the price the state pays for a dedicated T1 service.

This means that new opportunities to partner, by sharing networks between state and local governments, have never been more financially or technologically compelling. Here's an example to consider: Let's assume there are 16 dedicated T1 WAN circuits running into various local and state government facilities in one county. If those facilities could connect securely into a county fiber network backbone and ride one consolidated 500 Mbps pipe back to the fiber backbone network, the potential network cost savings would be huge. The quick math shows a 75 percent cost reduction, while offering about 20 times the bandwidth for each of those offices. The annual leased circuit savings for that county alone would be more than $100,000.

This example isn't hypothetical. Michigan's state government currently has nearly 800 dedicated circuits running at various speeds, so the ongoing savings from bundling bandwidth is substantial and the operational benefits are tremendous.

You may be thinking, 'OK, where's the catch? If this is so easy, why hasn't this scenario been more widely adopted in Michigan and nationwide?' The answer goes back to a few assumptions I made about the availability to connect into local government fiber (or perhaps high-speed wireless) backbones. Some of these locations don't have county networks. (However, broadband stimulus dollars and rural broadband plans will soon be changing that connectivity status quo.) Meanwhile, these county or regional networks exist in many parts of the country.

This brings us to the main reason that progress in this area has been slow. Our greatest challenge is governance. Local government CIOs may be thinking: Why do I want to share my network with the state? This connectivity isn't free. What's in it for me? I don't trust the state (or the feds, for that matter). What about security, service-level agreements (SLAs), demarcation points, staffing or a host of other issues?

These discussions must be addressed in memorandums of understanding between governments. Expectations about SLAs must be met on all sides and the savings shared. This deal must be win-win. Michigan is addressing these topics with Oakland County and other local jurisdictions. There's no doubt the governance process will take time and won't be easy.

Nevertheless, the opportunities are immense, and a similar analysis can be applied to connectivity between federal and state government networks. The bottom line is we need to rethink our enterprise architectures. The exciting thing is that shared government networks offer higher speeds and big savings.


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Comments

Chuck Scott    |    Commented September 28, 2009

Dan: I agree with what you say in your article, but suggest taking it one more step. All governments have constituents and they also need Broadband services. There have been few, if any, good models for solving rural Broadband availability in many areas. The States and local governments need to collaborate with projects that build rural services in ways that work. This must go beyond simply making cheap bandwidth available to rural ISPs. Even if you gave bandwidth away for free, it still would not be possible for ISPs to build rural broadband services in many areas (other than marginal to useless wireless) and the telcos and cable companies are certainly not going to do it. The solution is for the states and local governments to pool resources into projects that build rural services. This means giving up control of the network, which they have trouble doing, and understanding there are other means to security. If the states and local governments are not going to actually build rural broadband themselves, they should not dilute revenues for those who would by building separate public-sector networks. My white paper is now getting a bit dated, but you might find it interesting... http://nmb.us.com/white-paper-4/

Chuck Scott    |    Commented September 28, 2009

Dan: I agree with what you say in your article, but suggest taking it one more step. All governments have constituents and they also need Broadband services. There have been few, if any, good models for solving rural Broadband availability in many areas. The States and local governments need to collaborate with projects that build rural services in ways that work. This must go beyond simply making cheap bandwidth available to rural ISPs. Even if you gave bandwidth away for free, it still would not be possible for ISPs to build rural broadband services in many areas (other than marginal to useless wireless) and the telcos and cable companies are certainly not going to do it. The solution is for the states and local governments to pool resources into projects that build rural services. This means giving up control of the network, which they have trouble doing, and understanding there are other means to security. If the states and local governments are not going to actually build rural broadband themselves, they should not dilute revenues for those who would by building separate public-sector networks. My white paper is now getting a bit dated, but you might find it interesting... http://nmb.us.com/white-paper-4/

Chuck Scott    |    Commented September 28, 2009

Dan: I agree with what you say in your article, but suggest taking it one more step. All governments have constituents and they also need Broadband services. There have been few, if any, good models for solving rural Broadband availability in many areas. The States and local governments need to collaborate with projects that build rural services in ways that work. This must go beyond simply making cheap bandwidth available to rural ISPs. Even if you gave bandwidth away for free, it still would not be possible for ISPs to build rural broadband services in many areas (other than marginal to useless wireless) and the telcos and cable companies are certainly not going to do it. The solution is for the states and local governments to pool resources into projects that build rural services. This means giving up control of the network, which they have trouble doing, and understanding there are other means to security. If the states and local governments are not going to actually build rural broadband themselves, they should not dilute revenues for those who would by building separate public-sector networks. My white paper is now getting a bit dated, but you might find it interesting... http://nmb.us.com/white-paper-4/

Chuck Scott    |    Commented September 28, 2009

Dan: I agree with what you say in your article, but suggest taking it one more step. All governments have constituents and they also need Broadband services. There have been few, if any, good models for solving rural Broadband availability in many areas. The States and local governments need to collaborate with projects that build rural services in ways that work. This must go beyond simply making cheap bandwidth available to rural ISPs. Even if you gave bandwidth away for free, it still would not be possible for ISPs to build rural broadband services in many areas (other than marginal to useless wireless) and the telcos and cable companies are certainly not going to do it. The solution is for the states and local governments to pool resources into projects that build rural services. This means giving up control of the network, which they have trouble doing, and understanding there are other means to security. If the states and local governments are not going to actually build rural broadband themselves, they should not dilute revenues for those who would by building separate public-sector networks. My white paper is now getting a bit dated, but you might find it interesting... http://nmb.us.com/white-paper-4/

Dan Lohrmann    |    Commented October 4, 2009

Chuck, After reading your white paper, I find that I agree with most of what you have written about the urgency of broadband needs for rural communities in Northern Lower Michigan. As we move forward, I also agree that government entities need to be open to sharing networks in ways that make sense with non-government groups, as long as security and privacy requirements are met. The issue of loss of control is a barrier that must be overcome, but it will take time and the elements I identity in the article. I also believe that the Michigan broadband plans and grant requests submitted under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) in our region will address your suggestion to pool resources regionally into projects that build rural services. I recommend visiting: www.Michigan.gov/broadband for more information. Bottom line, we are heading in the direction you recommend, and I urge others around the country to collaborate in similar ways. I want to thank you for your very thoughtful comments.

Dan Lohrmann    |    Commented October 4, 2009

Chuck, After reading your white paper, I find that I agree with most of what you have written about the urgency of broadband needs for rural communities in Northern Lower Michigan. As we move forward, I also agree that government entities need to be open to sharing networks in ways that make sense with non-government groups, as long as security and privacy requirements are met. The issue of loss of control is a barrier that must be overcome, but it will take time and the elements I identity in the article. I also believe that the Michigan broadband plans and grant requests submitted under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) in our region will address your suggestion to pool resources regionally into projects that build rural services. I recommend visiting: www.Michigan.gov/broadband for more information. Bottom line, we are heading in the direction you recommend, and I urge others around the country to collaborate in similar ways. I want to thank you for your very thoughtful comments.

Dan Lohrmann    |    Commented October 4, 2009

Chuck, After reading your white paper, I find that I agree with most of what you have written about the urgency of broadband needs for rural communities in Northern Lower Michigan. As we move forward, I also agree that government entities need to be open to sharing networks in ways that make sense with non-government groups, as long as security and privacy requirements are met. The issue of loss of control is a barrier that must be overcome, but it will take time and the elements I identity in the article. I also believe that the Michigan broadband plans and grant requests submitted under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) in our region will address your suggestion to pool resources regionally into projects that build rural services. I recommend visiting: www.Michigan.gov/broadband for more information. Bottom line, we are heading in the direction you recommend, and I urge others around the country to collaborate in similar ways. I want to thank you for your very thoughtful comments.

Dan Lohrmann    |    Commented October 4, 2009

Chuck, After reading your white paper, I find that I agree with most of what you have written about the urgency of broadband needs for rural communities in Northern Lower Michigan. As we move forward, I also agree that government entities need to be open to sharing networks in ways that make sense with non-government groups, as long as security and privacy requirements are met. The issue of loss of control is a barrier that must be overcome, but it will take time and the elements I identity in the article. I also believe that the Michigan broadband plans and grant requests submitted under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) in our region will address your suggestion to pool resources regionally into projects that build rural services. I recommend visiting: www.Michigan.gov/broadband for more information. Bottom line, we are heading in the direction you recommend, and I urge others around the country to collaborate in similar ways. I want to thank you for your very thoughtful comments.


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