Broadband Public/Private Partnerships Provide Internet Access to All

West Group Law attorneys are currently working on a number of broadband initiatives that are intended to provide high-speed, affordable Internet service to under-served communities. These projects typically promote broadband to improve productivity and reduce costs in schools and community facilities, healthcare institutions, public safety, energy management and other vital functions. By using various forms of public/private partnerships, communities can overcome some of the major funding and technical challenges that have historically hindered the full implementation of a broadband network to everyone. As a result of unprecedented levels of federal and state funding opportunities in the last few years, these projects are being launched at a record pace.

There are three main models for broadband Public/Private Partnerships:

  1. Private sector-led: a commercial operator (private or non-profit) builds, owns and operates the network;
  2. Government-led and private supported: a public entity (e.g. state, county or city government, municipal electric utility or rural coop) owns the network and private partners construct, operate and/or maintain the network in exchange for financial and in-kind support; and
  3. Joint ownership: a commercial operator and the public enterprise/government entity jointly invest in the network.

With respect to the procurement process, West Group Law has advised clients on the advantages and disadvantages of the various options:

  1. Low-bid competitive bids where the municipality intends to own any infrastructure improvements relating to broadband services;
  2. Professional services where the broadband services are highly technical in nature and integrate scientific and technical skills; and
  3. A “hybrid” transaction where the provision of broadband services and equipment is of a hybrid nature that would not be subject to low-bid procurement requirements nor fit squarely into the procurement of professional services, where the broadband infrastructure would be incidental to the essential nature of broadband services.

In one case, a primarily rural county is working with a commercial operator using federal grant funds to pay for a portion of the project cost to build-out a network where every unserved address can gain access to the Internet. In another project, a city is exploring upgrading the broadband infrastructure to support a “Smart City“ suite of offerings for its residents and businesses.

Partners Teno West and Jeff Maddox will be speaking at the CAASNY Annual Meeting in Cooperstown, New York on May 23, 2023 in a presentation titled “Broadband Public/Private Partnerships: A means to provide Internet Access to the Under- or Non-served.”