Building Broadband Better with Community Empowerment Networks



About the Project

The COVID pandemic has painfully underscored the lack of universal and affordable access to 21st Century Communication Infrastructure…in Michigan and our nation as a whole. To address this societal challenge in a cost-effective and timely way, we need to, as President Biden might put it, Build Broadband Better. 

But what does it mean to “build broadband better,” and what are the key characteristics of “21st Century Communication Infrastructure”? Are these mere slogans expressing an admirable goal but lacking a clear definition of that goal and a strategy to achieve it? Or are there practical decisions and investments we can make that give these terms clear and compelling meaning and value? 

These questions are especially timely and important given the current intersection of broad and urgent need with a dramatic increase in federal subsidies to support improvements in our nation’s communication infrastructure. 

This project describes a network model that provides a clear, specific and practical meaning to the phrase Building Broadband Better and the term 21st Century Communication Infrastructure. The operating characteristics of this model have been described as “Automated,” “Dynamic,” and “Software Defined” Open Access. Focusing on the purpose and impacts these functional characteristics enable, we refer to it as the Community Empowerment Network model. 

The purpose of this project is to help decision-makers and stakeholders understand the value and feasibility of this model as they consider how best to provide their communities with the communication infrastructure they need to thrive in the 21st century.

Project Updates

On August 26, 2021, this project presented a webinar that examined key elements of 21st Century Communication Infrastructure--network design, functionality and ownership--and how these are related to the goals of financial sustainability, affordability and community benefits. 

More specifically, the webinar examined an approach to network design that we refer to as Community Empowerment Networks. These networks support unique “automated open access” (AOA) functionality by leveraging software defined networking (SDN) and network virtualization (NV) technologies that earlier transformed the performance and economics of data centers operated by Internet giants like Google, Facebook, Amazon and Netflix. 

As explained in the webinar, Community Empowerment Networks can provide unique benefits, including reduced cost of operation; increased competition and innovation among ISPs; lower prices, increased choice, security and ease of use for customers and; an open platform for innovation and value creation by local businesses and community service providers (CSPs), including organizations operating in the healthcare, education, public safety, government, public utility and nonprofit sectors. 

In addition to an introductory presentation prepared by the CERI project team, the webinar included a presentation and Q&A session featuring executives from EntryPoint Networks, a leading developer of AOA network technology. 

We invite you to use this website to learn more about the Community Empowerment Network model. For your convenience we’ve made the webinar content available in multiple forms: 

· A 20 minute introduction to the Community Empowerment Network model 

· An 18 minute presentation by Bruce Patterson who, as the city’s Technology Director, spearheaded the world’s first deployment of EntryPoint’s AOA technology in Ammon, Idaho. In 2021 Bruce joined the EntryPoint team with the goal of helping communities around the country understand, deploy and benefit from EntryPoint-enabled networks. 

· More than a dozen short video clips addressing specific questions raised by webinar attendees during the event’s Q&A session on the following topics:

  • How the Community Empowerment Network model works, including the roles played by local communities, network operators, ISPs and EntryPoint Networks.
  • How state laws can influence a community’s broadband strategy, and how certain ownership and operating models and legislative changes can make it easier for Michigan communities to expand high-performance broadband.
  • Addressing the economic challenges facing efforts to expand access to high-performance broadband in rural areas.

·The full 82 minute webinar


About the Contributors