Simplicity, innovation and the death of anti-muni network laws

Communities that want to help the FCC’s drive against 19 states’ anti-municipal broadband laws should look to local gigabit innovation to overcome the crux of the problem: state legislators who support these laws. How do you do that? One answer is found in an entrepreneur’s opening question at the GigTANK Demo Day last month in Chattanooga – “Who here is wearing clothes today?”

The simplicity of the question from Matt Baron of SeamBot is the strength of community high-speed networks. Everyone who wears clothes potentially can benefit directly or indirectly from super fast broadband networks and the innovation they produce. To get legislators who hold the power to rescind these laws to reverse their position, communities must forcefully make the case that broadband drives innovation that touches everyone, particularly those with votes and campaign contributions.

Tell gigabit stories

There is a growing awareness among state legislators of the potential economic impact of innovation centers popping up in their electoral districts, and it’s moving some who originally supported these laws to reverse or soften their stance. At this critical juncture, community leaders need to use the stories of entrepreneurs such as those at Demo Day for political gain.

Although Tennessee Rep Marsha Blackburn helped pass a bill in Congress to prevent the FCC from rescinding that state’s anti-muni network law, earlier this year state legislators advanced eight bills to reverse or eliminate the law’s impact. The bills failed to pass this session, but broadband leaders around the state need to re-join the battle next session.

North Carolina is another state in which the FCC has been asked to intervene. State Representative William Brawley told the Southeast Association of Telecommunications Officers and Advisors (SEATOA) that several legislators felt the anti-muni law was a mistake. If communities want to remove the law, voters in this state need to elect legislators who understand the enormous detrimental results the law has brought to their communities.

Turning gigabit plowshares into political swords

CHATTANOOGA, TN - JULY 30:  President Obama makes a speech about the economy and jobs at an Amazon Fulfillment Center in Chattanooga, Tennessee on July 30, 2013.  Amazon announced this week that it expected to have 7,000 job openings across the country.  (Photo by Jessica McGowan/Getty Images)

CHATTANOOGA, TN – JULY 30: President Obama makes a speech about the economy and jobs at an Amazon Fulfillment Center in Chattanooga, Tennessee on July 30, 2013. Amazon announced this week that it expected to have 7,000 job openings across the country. (Photo by Jessica McGowan/Getty Images)

A major value of the entrepreneur showcases in Chattanooga, as well as the 40 other cities producing economic wins with gigabit networks, is the validation that gigabit-produced innovations can virtually touch everyone. Besides using success stories publicly supporting the FCC’s efforts to block anti-muni networks laws, communities need to use this information to apply direct, consistent pressure on legislators at the ballot box and in state houses to counter telco and cable incumbents’ influence. “We can only hope legislators are beginning to understand that without access to modern infrastructure, the state’s economic competitiveness is sorely undermined,” states SEATOA President Catherine Rice.

The stories of broadband innovation and success are effective tools for building political support, as Longmont Assistant City Manager Sandi Seader explained in this interview about tactics their citizens used to overcame political challenges. Demo Day produced some good new stories to help Chattanooga rally legislative support.

Check out these startups

Seambot’s technology would allow a person to visit a tailor, scan their body, select and modify a piece of clothing, or cut and sew an entire outfit from scratch for a well-fitted garment. The key to the application is 3D printing technology that creates a perfect replication of any human body in all its uniqueness and imperfections. An increase in demand should lead to decreases in prices and time to receive finished garments to the point where average consumers can take advantage of this service.

Shoes from Feetz.

Shoes from Feetz.

Likewise, Feetz technology allows similar customization of footwear by using 3D printing to replicate a person’s feet and then produce customized shoes that fit “size me.” Here too, scaling up the numbers of customers plus technology evolution should drive down costs to where moderate and even lower income individuals can afford custom shoes. As 3D replication of a person or their body parts becomes commonplace, new innovations that touch more people come to light.

3DOps impressed attendees with a 3D printing application that can replicate any part of the anatomy from the brain down to the Achilles heel so surgeons can do trial-run surgery on 3D printouts rather than “exploratory surgery” on you. Nestegg Bio pushes deeper into the art of the possible by using 3D printing to make new drug discovery a simpler and more affordable process with its RootCube product. RootCube will print 3D vascular canals around which researchers can seed whatever organ tissue they want to study.

[company]TrakTek 3D[/company] entered GigTANK in June intending to produce lightweight horseshoes for racehorses. But initial market research convinced them to shift to creating a 3D printing service that extends the life cycle of machinery by engineering and manufacturing legacy replacement parts. Similar to 3DOps’ value proposition, employees can do repair, refurbishment or replacement work on relatively inexpensive replicas before putting a costly piece of equipment under the lathe. This type of evolution brought on by 3D printing apps running on gig networks can create light and heavy manufacturing-related jobs and services in small or rural towns that could use the economic boost.

BMW 3D printed thumb

Besides 3D printing, [company]GigTANK[/company] entrepreneurs unveiled healthcare and smart grid applications. Collectively, they underscore that gigabit capabilities are essential to building, testing and in some cases running these innovative applications capable of touching practically everyone. Over 40 public entities running community-wide gigabit networks plus a similar number operating citywide regular fiber network substantiate that the public sector clearly leads the drive to build network assets that small towns such as Salisbury, NC (population 33,000) expect will reverse the ravages of the recession.

The stories of these gigabit-driven innovations and their economic impact are the swords which broadband leaders must wield, first to rally voters and then to influence legislators to reverse these laws. As Kansas and Georgia proved last year, these particular messages can help turn the tide.

Craig Settles is a consultant who helps organizations develop broadband strategies, host of radio talk show Gigabit Nation and a broadband industry analyst. Follow him on Twitter (@cjsettles) or via his blog.