Guest commentary: How a Pennsylvania county paved the way to muni broadband success

In Pennsylvania, Cambria County trumped Verizon with the telco’s own rules to build a muni network that moves beyond public safety to impact education, economic development and digital inclusion. Planners of the 700 square mile Cambria County network, which is up and running, used the following strategy that you will see become the foundation for many projects that start this year.

1. The county created a network infrastructure with features developed to withstand the rigors of public safety use (e.g. must-have-24/7 reliability, redundancy, disaster recovery). Once you build a network with that much power, there is tremendous excess network capacity for other uses.

2. They incorporated into the infrastructure multiple wireless technologies (5.8 GHz, 900 MHz, 4.9 and WiFi), and support for other wireless technologies such as WiMAX, SCADA and automated meter reading, which enables them to address a range of constituents’ needs.

3. Various cost savings, generated through reducing or eliminating telecom services that the county now receives through the network, recover much of the funds spent to build the network.

4. The county offers the network infrastructure as a digital “turnpike” to their 62 municipalities, enabling those munis to deploy applications and services that meet their respective needs, rather than trying to sell everyone the same package of apps. The latter was the Achilles heel of the Silicon Valley regional network project.

5. Along with Conxx, a vendor that manages the network as a county contractor, officials offer Cambria County schools services that enable the institutions to now provide education and training that is preparing the local workforce to function in a digital economy.

6., The county and the contractor recruited service providers to lease the network infrastructure and offer local businesses telecommunication services at faster speeds and for less money than incumbents offer. This, along with the retraining of the local workforce, is bringing new businesses into the area.

7. These providers are also selling services to general consumers that offer faster speeds and lower prices than previously available, if highspeed access was even available. Note that this focus on the general consumer comes AFTER ensuring the network’s financial sustainability through services to local government and other stakeholders.

8. Because each of these services used by the county – or offered by them to their various constituents – directly saved money or generated revenues for the county, financial institutions literally lined up to offer Cambria County financing. This is a local government attracting investments that private sector companies trying to deploy similar networks have been unable to do.

In conclusion, let me point out that Cambria County owes its success to following the above prescription for success that has been advocated – but largely ignored – for over two years. Will local governments finally get it? The other factor contributing to their success, even after Verizon backed a state law prohibiting muni networks, was the willingness to play by the rule Verizon set.

According to the law, Verizon must respond to a request from a local government to build a network and offer muni broadband services within two months. If Verizon denies the request, the telco has 12 months to build and develop those same services. Cambria County called Verizon’s hand and presented their request. Two months later Verizon told the county to have at it. Expect to see other Pennsylvania counties follow suit soon.

About the author

csettles_presentation_shot.JPG Craig Settles is an Oakland, CA-based business strategy consultant and author of After Muni Wireless Comes to Town, a recently released guide to effectively deploying government mobile workforce applications.


  1. Cambria guy says

    I’m a resident of Cambria County and can’t wait until I get service. The 3MB symetrical package is $40 a month, about what I’m paying for ADSL right now. (1.5 down and crap, up)