People Over Profit: DigitalC's Mission to Connect Communities in Cleveland- Episode 589 of the Community Broadband Bits Podcast

This week on the podcast, Christopher is joined again by Joshua Edmonds, the Chief Executive Officer of DigitalC, a community-based nonprofit dedicated to bridging the digital divide in Cleveland, Ohio. DigitalC achieves this by offering fast and affordable internet access through a fixed wireless network, priced at $18 per month, to underserved neighborhoods. Additionally, they provide digital equity programs such as digital literacy training and device deployment.

Christopher and Joshua discuss recent updates, including DigitalC's successful bid for a $20 million contract from the city of Cleveland to establish a citywide infrastructure. Joshua details the plan to connect over 23,000 households within 18 months, expanding their network with commercial fiber infrastructure to link homes and businesses.

While DigitalC continues generating revenue to support digital equity programs, the conversation concludes with Chris and Joshua emphasizing the importance of prioritizing people over profit. They emphasize the need to serve the unserved and underserved populations and comprehensively address the digital divide.

This show is 38 minutes long and can be played on this page or using the podcast app of your choice with this feed.

Transcript below.

We want your feedback and suggestions for the show: please e-mail us or leave a comment below.

Listen to other episodes here or see other podcasts from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance here.

Thanks to Arne Huseby for the music. The song is Warm Duck Shuffle and is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution (3.0) license.


Joshua Edmonds (00:07):
If we wanted to, fine. We will cherry pick all the homeowners. We'll do that, but then we do not have the ability to say to ourselves that what we're doing is digital equity. No. What we're doing is we're running a business, us being a technology social enterprise, we have an enterprise grade product, but the social comes first, the people comes first.

Christopher Mitchell (00:29):
Welcome [00:00:30] to another episode of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. I'm Christopher Mitchell at the Institute for Local in Philadelphia today with Joshua Edmonds at the Net Inclusion Conference for National Digital Inclusion Alliance. Welcome back to the show.

Joshua Edmonds (00:47):
Joshua. Thank you for having me back and you are very consistent with your energy in your intros, and I appreciate that

Christopher Mitchell (00:54):
You are the head of DigitalC. What's your actual title?

Joshua Edmonds (00:57):
I am the Chief Executive Officer.

Christopher Mitchell (01:00):
[00:01:00] How's that going?

Joshua Edmonds (01:01):
Well, I would say it's going well. I think that there's obviously a jump that you make from going from a municipal director to CEO of a technology social enterprise. And while there's some similarities, there's also some unique challenges and maybe not challenges, just I would say opportunities. And so those opportunities are just requiring a lot more from me, but in the best ways because that just means that there's growth. And I am growing [00:01:30] in this role and growing even in my understanding of what I would argue would be sustainable digital equity.

Christopher Mitchell (01:36):
Right. I'm not sure exactly how to target this, so if people are a little bit confused about DigitalC, we'll try to help them along, but also I would recommend some of the past interviews that we've talked to get a sense of your background, where you're coming from. But DigitalC in my mind, I guess I would start off by just saying it is a great solution for the challenge of a city that does not want [00:02:00] to do municipal broadband, but recognizes a need for some kind of business model that is focused on the neighborhoods that are usually left behind.

Joshua Edmonds (02:07):
That's right. And I would argue, and this is just a slight deviation here, I would say that it's not that they don't want to, they can't, and that's because of those existing state statutes that don't allow Ohio to do that. And so Cleveland would, maybe with that money, it was a $20 million contract that DigitalC won. I would argue if that didn't exist, [00:02:30] Cleveland might've went with a different option. And that's not a bad thing. Obviously in Detroit, I was supportive of municipal and I still am. But in this case, we are absolutely a 5 0 1 3 and the ability for us to be that 5 0 1 3 and navigate and be able to receive a 20 million investment from the city to build out a citywide infrastructure that's obvious. I clearly have an incredible team,

Christopher Mitchell (02:56):
And I think there's a sort of chicken or egg issue in that [00:03:00] nonprofit arrangement is amazing, is very difficult for someone to replicate what you've done, what Digital Sea has done before you got there because Digital Sea has an endowment. And so that goes back to the previous organization, one Community, one Cleveland before that nonprofit connecting all these hospitals and anchors and stuff like that decides to privatize largely as I understand it, because I think local leaders didn't share in that vision of expanding that to residents. And so creates a for-profit, ISP [00:03:30] called Everstream, right? And when you take a nonprofit into a private company for profit, you got to put a bunch of money somewhere, right? So they parked it at Digital Sea.

Joshua Edmonds (03:39):
Well, no, we wished it's not that easy. No, I think that, yeah, DigitalC did receive funding out of that, but I thought that Digital Sea had maybe received like 50 million from that. No, no, no, no, it wasn't that. But I think what's even more interesting is during [00:04:00] its infancy, it's incorporated in 2016 as a nonprofit, and we didn't really start building the network until 2018, 2019. I mean, that's when digitale connects its first customer 2019 right before the pandemic. And so largely a lot of what has happened and the funding that was exhausted, I would say maybe in the past was exploration funding. We will sponsor a hackathon over here. We'll work with the Water Alliance over here to come up with Smart Water Solutions. I think they were just trying to find their footing. And then [00:04:30] obviously if you look at the capital expenditures needed to build a network, even with what DigitalC had in its reserves, it was not enough to be able to build what I would argue was a competitive network. It was enough to showcase a proof of concept. And so I think that might be maybe a little bit of a golden nugget for any of these other communities who were like, man, I would love to start, but I don't have the 20 million contract that digital seed just got from the city. Well, it's like we only got the 20 off of the proof of concept that was already built initially, and that did not cost us 20 to build.

Christopher Mitchell (05:00):
[00:05:00] So let's talk about that then. And also we'll talk about the technology sum because that's a question I've often got when I've interviewed you before. I don't always want to get too technical because a lot of the audience, some of the audience is really into it, some of the audience. But I want to go a little bit deeper with you on the technology. So let's start with the pilot. So DigitalC recognizes that there's a need for going beyond skills training, that you could do skills training and ACP until the cows come home. That's right. And then you're still not going to actually get [00:05:30] where you need. You got to make sure that people have a high quality network. I mean, I don't know why I'm telling you this because you say it better than I do, but I'm prompting you to give us a sense of you don't fit into that normal divide of do we do infrastructure or do we do digital equity? You do it.

Joshua Edmonds (05:47):
No, that's absolutely right. And I would say that at the onset, if we go back to again 2018, when DigitalCs building this, at that time, we're not [00:06:00] talking about 100, 100 symmetrical. And I think that a lot of people have almost like, I'm not sure if it's pandemic bias or something as it relates to the Internet speeds, but it's like 100 symmetrical. We weren't even near that at one point. I mean, if you were just north of 25 3 at the time, that was incredible. And so if you go back to that, that's also during the hotspot times when it was just like the digital inclusion interventions were largely, [00:06:30] you get someone a computer and get someone a hotspot and direct them to a class. You were fully digitally included. The

Christopher Mitchell (06:36):
Goal wasn't to have a great experience online. It was to make sure that you could do the minimum that you needed

Joshua Edmonds (06:40):
To do. That's correct. And so then DigitalC says, well, no, what happens if we said, let's go double the standard, it's 25, let's go 50. Let's see what that gets us. And at that time, we were using the CBRS spectrum to really, one, we could get as many users on it. We still [00:07:00] don't pay for our spectrum. We're still unlicensed spectrum. And so with that unlicensed spectrum, we were allowed to get, or we were able to get a significant amount of users. When I say significant again in 2019, we connect our first customer and then through the pandemic, we crossed over a thousand, and now we're north of 2000. And last month we connected over 200 households just last month. And that's off of a limited scale and deployment. Our initial network got up to [00:07:30] it, passed 23,500 homes. Now, what we started noticing though, and this is an interesting, I would say, opportunity to see the cross or the intersection between a business and a digital inclusion organization.

And I'm very intentional with those words I just used when I'm looking at a digital inclusion organization. I would say that was what DigitalC was in the past, and that was necessary. DigitalC deployed the services and [00:08:00] the hardest to reach neighborhoods where the under connectivity was the highest. The percentage of people being underbanked was the highest. All those alarming population indicators were essentially the methodology that DigitalC used to justify building networks. But the issue with that is trying to build a sustainable model off of within those neighborhoods. It's difficult when those same people are living lives that are in many cases on the fringes of a [00:08:30] number of things. And so as a result of that, DigitalC kept getting customers and kept losing customers because trying to serve a very transient population was difficult. Churn and the transient, and even just the limitations of the network at the time, coupled with people not knowing us. And then though the pandemic in the mix, that made it really, really difficult. And so from a business standpoint, it didn't make too much sense. But from a digital equity standpoint, it made all the sense in the world. [00:09:00] And trying to get to that middle has been a unique challenge.

Christopher Mitchell (09:04):
This is where, from my perspective watching on the outside in, I was confused as to how DigitalC was going to make this work because I started working in 2007 in this field right around the time that people recognized Wi-Fi could not provide a high quality connection inside the home. And for years, I've been telling people we don't know how to solve the problem of single family homes, getting them high quality Internet access because [00:09:30] there was no good wireless solution in most cases that was affordable, that we could actually make it work. And so companies like Starry were like, we're doing it. We're doing this. We're going to do this high quality work. And then they went bankrupt, right? That's right. I was like, okay. And we saw a number of companies, I feel like over the years, and what we found is that that wireless solution can work really well with apartment buildings, rooftop to rooftop. It could be amazing. That's right. But nobody was really making it work on a single family home. And DigitalC was like, we're going to do it. And I was like, good luck, but I don't understand how

Joshua Edmonds (09:59):
Well, [00:10:00] and I'll be honest, we're still learning elements of that. The multi-dwelling units in the apartment building, those make all the sense in the world, even from a customer acquisition cost. I mean, if you have a captive audience in an apartment building, that's going to lower your customer acquisition cost astronomically. So as a business you're like, oh no, we love the multi-dwelling units, those single family households, those, again, get tricky, especially in those the renter markets. Any renter market is going to be [00:10:30] more challenging because it's like you're hitting a moving target that we are now using labor to then deploy an affordable service. Our service is $18 a month. Most of those other providers, even the staris, they were offering affordable services, their mission, but at what point do you look at the transient that says, alright, I'm going to keep dispatching this workforce, connect the same customer, and I'm getting $18 back a month. At some point, the sustainability gets called into question and then optically [00:11:00] people will then almost degrade your technical solution. Well, there's not many subscribers on it, so it must not be valuable, right? It's like, no, no, no, no, no, no, no. And this is a point that I did make at the city council table in Cleveland. People want to watch. Those are on YouTube. You do not have to watch the June one

If you

Christopher Mitchell (11:18):
Want to. Is that a painful one? Oh

Joshua Edmonds (11:19):
Man, it's up. If you want to, you can, but you don't have to. But at the table, I made a point, I think this might've been during the September hearing where I said, [00:11:30] okay, when I went out door knocking with our team to let them know when we expanded our service to one of our neighborhoods, I said to them, okay, the first house I knocked on was in foreclosure. The second house on lockdown was in foreclosure. The third one was in foreclosure. Do these people deserve to be connected? Now if we do connect them and then two months from now they leave or whatever happens, is that an indictment on our service? And so now, are we being penalized [00:12:00] based on the market conditions in Cleveland? That is a very unfair position to be in as a company. And that's again, this other side of the digital divide that when you start talking about the reality of the situation, you're going to have a lot of providers who are going to have a very similar story, which is like, look, we're doing everything we can, but from a business standpoint, even I'm the nonprofit saying this, at what point can we begin tapping into aid based reality where aid based reality [00:12:30] says, I understand that these homes aren't foreclosure.

I understand that these people are behind on every single bill, so why would they be current with you? But the question still goes back to, do they deserve to be connected? And that is a fundamental question that we have perpetually said yes to at DigitalC. The other people have said no to. And I'm not saying I fully agree to them saying no, but from a business standpoint, I absolutely understand now, and I didn't understand that before.

Christopher Mitchell (12:56):
What's kind of interesting is there's a wonderful book, how The Other [00:13:00] Half Banks by Mercer Baron, and it talks about the history of banking. And one of the things that really struck me, and I always remember is how a lot of different structures, for instance, credit unions, they start off focusing on the people that have been unbanked, the people who've been left behind, and they work with them and over time they're getting a little bit more successful. You know what? That's a really hard population to work with. We're going to start focusing our services more on middle income families and this and that, and they all just move away from it because it's so hard. So [00:13:30] what you're describing, I mean, this is your job, and that's the sort of thing that you're then, and we run into this with municipal broadband. People are like, well, your metrics don't look like a big company. And it's like, well, yeah, because doing something different.

Joshua Edmonds (13:42):
That's right. If we wanted to, fine, we will cherry pick all the homeowners. We'll do that. But then we do not have the ability to say to ourselves and to even on this podcast that what we're doing is digital equity. No. What we're doing is we're running a business. [00:14:00] And so again, us being a technology social enterprise, we have an enterprise grade product, but the social comes first, the people comes first. And so as long as that is the true north ear, the people, no matter the conditions of the people, we have an obligation of serving them. And that does not line up nicely on the spreadsheet. No matter how much we'd like it to, it does not line up the way you'd want it to.

Christopher Mitchell (14:23):
So then you recognize then you're going to need support, and you've lined that up. And let's talk about [00:14:30] the demo then the pilot that you did. So what did you do with the pilot and what were the goals of the pilot?

Joshua Edmonds (14:36):
Yeah, so

Christopher Mitchell (14:37):
Lemme set the stage quick. So at this point, there is 20 million in play. Is that right? And you're trying to make sure that you are eligible and likely to receive

Joshua Edmonds (14:45):
It. Yep, yep. Yeah. So the city of Cleveland had issued a $20 million RFP to deploying a citywide network. And everybody bid everybody, if you're going to say, did they bid? Yes, yes. Everybody that you can [00:15:00] think of bid on that thing. And the fact that our little tugboat of an operation, our small but mighty tugboat was able to beat out all these other big large companies who, again, there's not a single large company with a footprint in northeast Ohio that was okay or happy that they didn't get a $20 million contract. No one's going to be happy with that. And so the fact that we got that, again, kudos to our incredible team, but along the way, it absolutely was [00:15:30] not easy at all. There was a lot of things where they were using, again, that business lens to discredit DigitalC and not using that nonprofit digital equity lens that was more congruent with who we were.

It's almost like the athlete who was maybe the swimmer and they're saying, well, you didn't score any goals in water polo, so you don't know how to play. And it's like, no, no, no, no, no. I'm familiar with water. I absolutely am different sports. But [00:16:00] regardless, we finally got enough feedback from city council and they said, look, in order for us to really believe that you all can one hit your speeds, they didn't think we could hit our speeds. They were saying, I had my doubts when they were saying that our speeds were slow. Which again, I go back to, no, no, no, you have pandemic eyes 25 3. At one point, that was the standard for high speed Internet. So the fact that we were delivering 50 50 over five, again, [00:16:30] that was a good service, especially for $18 today, that's still a good service.

But regardless, we had to let them know that we could deploy 100 over 100. Now here's the thing. We could do that in the MDUs because we could use the existing cabling infrastructure that was already going there. So yeah, we could do that, but no, no, no, no, no. We want to see you do it in the neighborhood. And so thankfully, our good buddies, Tarana, and this was a decision led by our chief operating officer, Jose Valdez, who is phenomenal. [00:17:00] And I would always brag about Jose, he's one of the greatest minds I've ever worked with.

He was like, there's a way that we can get this 100, 100, but it's going to cost us. And we're like, oh my gosh, of course it will. And Tarana was able to one, train our team and we were able to deploy in Glenville and Glenville and Cleveland is one of our historic neighborhoods. But in addition to that, it has the highest coverage of trees per capita. The tree canopy in [00:17:30] Glenville is insane. I mean, those trees are huge. Trees eat wireless. Yes, they do. Well, historically they have. However, thanks to our partnership with Tarana, we've been able to not only deploy this even with non-line of sight, near line of sight and line of sight, we've never dipped below 101. In fact, we've been able to get over 500 down. Now in the beginning, we just let people have it like, okay, we just want to show you all what happens when we don't [00:18:00] cap this speed at 100, 100.

And we had residents knocking on their neighbor's doors saying, you all got to get on this. You all need to get on this, and I would never work with this ex provider again. And that was one a great thing, which then led to us bringing council members on that tour and saying, okay, council, fine. You don't have to hear us talking about 100, 100 hear from the residents directly. And there was a council member who took a speed test on the outside [00:18:30] of the home and we're like, well, I'm not getting 100 100 now. And again, it's like, well, yeah, well, the network isn't designed to be a outdoor Wi-Fi network. It's a home. But it's like that then still led me to the conclusion that even when we do this, there's still going to be this perpetual opposition because it's this notion that until we actually prove ourselves at scale, we're always be working against that.

So even with us getting the contract from the city, we still have opposition that to work through. But now that's the business environment. [00:19:00] And so once again, it's like digital equity when it comes to the people, but any grass tops, any type of broader, whatever, then it's business. And getting that cadence and timing has been challenging, but in the best way possible because it's akin to code switching where it's like, I'm having this conversation, boom, business. Nope, back to nonprofit, boom business. And it's like you can't cross them. I cannot go to a grassroots community meeting, home up business, that's my nonprofit again. [00:19:30] But the minute there's a grasstops individual, then it's business again. And getting that cadence was essentially all of our exercise last year, and that's what the pilot really materialized in taking the best in business infrastructure, but overlaying it in this still digital equity way because we went into an area that again, had all of those really challenging population indicators that would even still alter our take rate, which it still does to this day. I

Christopher Mitchell (19:54):
Don't know how many ISPs use Tarana [00:20:00] and offer services for less than $70 a month. The thing that you hear about Tarana is that it's really great. It works in a lot of different situations, but that it is spendy. Yes. And it makes sense that that might be the case. That's right. But with 18 or 19, I always get confused. You said it twice and I last time,

Joshua Edmonds (20:20):

Christopher Mitchell (20:21):
18 a month. So even with significant capital grants, is that something you can keep going?

Joshua Edmonds (20:30):
[00:20:30] Yes, we hope no. Yes. And here's why. So to your point, yeah, $18, even at the, let's just say a customer acquisition cost of $600, that's high. It's really high in $18. You're like, well, where do you all even break even? Was it five every year? And that's the assumption that someone stays in their home. Here's the value of what we're doing though. We signed up within this RFP to connect 23,500 households. So [00:21:00] all of the money that we have right now, all the capital expenditures, once that's built out within our operational costs, lessened significantly because it's like, well now we're not obviously prioritizing building a network while simultaneously trying to sign PO up while simultaneously trying to do this. It's like no, us being able to eliminate the biggest capital expenditure expense, which is building the infrastructure network, then allows us over time to model sustainability.

Now, in order for us to model sustainability just off of our Internet [00:21:30] alone, that doesn't talk about all the other stuff that DigitalC does, but just off our Internet, we'll need north of 30,000 customers, which is absolutely possible for us to do. The beauty about Toronto's equipment is the coverage and radius, especially as we have towers in the periphery of Cleveland, we are going to be able to hit the surrounding suburbs too. We know that. And so as a result of that, we will be able to do specialized rates in those other markets. We're not held 18 everywhere. We're held 18 in Cleveland. And so there is not that, but

Christopher Mitchell (21:59):
If you [00:22:00] have a household that is doing well in Cleveland that can get your service, are you able to charge them more or are you obligated to do

Joshua Edmonds (22:05):
$18? So we can charge them more for a different tier so we can tier. And so the $18 corresponds to the 100 100 price point. Now that's the service that we agreed to sign people up with the city of Cleveland. So we're committed to that $18, 100, 100. That's our premier. However, again, this thing can go north of 500. And so if we're doing that, yeah, there's a really unique opportunity there. And there's also [00:22:30] been significant demand from our business community who said, we want and we deserve an affordable Internet solution as well, which we said, yeah, the city didn't put on RFP for that, but however point heard message heard, we absolutely do agree that there's needs that exist outside of residential. And at some point we would like to grow to meet those needs too. And so I think that there is a unique pathway of growth for us that's still born out of the same mission of digital equity, but it can be [00:23:00] sustainable digital equity that allows us to think smarter with the assets that we have and leaving enough room for us to grow to be that legitimate premier Internet provider.

We just did it in the inverse. We didn't make our money than say, okay, now we made our money. Let's do this low cost program. It's like, no, no, no. We started with the low cost program and we're committed to that being the center. But then over time, if someone's like, Hey, I just need a bit more, it's interesting when the single person, [00:23:30] household is just one person in there thinks that they need the 300 to 400 megs, which is really interesting to me. Like, no, you don't. Oh, they

Christopher Mitchell (23:38):

Joshua Edmonds (23:39):
Oh man. I'm like, it's the most interesting thing that I'm hearing even locally in Cleveland. People reach out and say, I would take it, but I need more than 100. I'm like, no, you don't. But okay, allegedly you do because you've been fed this more and more and more great consumerism marketing from the other folks that every year they want to upgrade you because you deserve faster when someone like [00:24:00] bandwidth doesn't always correlate with speed. But one of the greatest points I'm going to make here is I can understand why these other telecom companies are how they've been able to make so much money off of continuously marketing increasing costs, when in reality they're taking advantage of the lack of knowledge people have about the telecommunication industry. And that is a phenomenal thing to do.

Christopher Mitchell (24:27):
So if I'm on a gigabit and my neighbor's on a hundred megabit, [00:24:30] it costs the company basically the same amount of money. I'm just giving the company more money.

Joshua Edmonds (24:34):
Exactly. And it's like you're not even getting the gig consistently.

Christopher Mitchell (24:39):
Well, I mean it depends on who you're getting from guess.

Joshua Edmonds (24:42):
And it's like, we know this, but it's like people are able to take advantage of that. And so some, it's interesting now that we're doing this because we're seeing the marketing stuff. I mean, we will look at, I mean these are obviously content companies that we're competing against, and because of that, [00:25:00] they do content really well or so we think, and as a result of that, we're now cross-examining every single little piece. And we're like, that fine print doesn't really, and it's just really revealing, especially when we're engaging with people where it's like, guys, our service is literally $18. Our ping is anywhere between 10 and 20. That's phenomenal for gaming. That's a ideal. But it's like, we're doing this, we have this great product, this great service, but yet this [00:25:30] more and more and more consumerism has really crept in, and now people are looking at even our 100 100 service as if that's not enough. And that is wild to me.

Christopher Mitchell (25:40):
Yeah, no, I agree. I mean, I would say for the vast majority of things that I do in my house, a hundred solidly delivered reliable service meets the need. It's a latency that you want, which means that if I'm loading a webpage, I want it to load quick. And that has more to do with things other than the bandwidth necessarily. That said, there's definitely times where I'm just downloading, [00:26:00] uploading something and I'm like, man, I'm at the max and it is a big, big file. But anyway, what I'm more interested in talking to you about, I think is then, so $20 million, is this a situation? And I think there's even more coming from the state. You have another opportunity,

Joshua Edmonds (26:14):
10 10 from the

Christopher Mitchell (26:14):
State, so you've another 10, so $30 million coming your way. So how are things looking for you and your goal of making sure that throughout Cleveland, I don't know the neighborhoods, but presumably you have 25,000 ish homes you have to hit?

Joshua Edmonds (26:28):
Well, so 23,500 [00:26:30] have to subscribe. However, we agreed that we would build the network out citywide in 18 months. So everybody in Cleveland will be able to subscribe, but we have to have 23,500 subscribing households minimum to satisfy the requirement.

Christopher Mitchell (26:46):
Are you building out fiber then at the same time then to support those towers?

Joshua Edmonds (26:49):
No. The good thing is we've been able to just partner with existing commercial fiber providers. So we still have our relationship with Everstream. And so a lot of our back haul does rely on ever [00:27:00] stream's connections. But also we've been really great at building a relationship with Crown Castle, and they've delivered every single time. I would argue that a lot of our towers go through Crown Castle and then American Tower is the other one too. So thankfully the fiber's already there. And this is the thing that I would say to anyone who is kind of on the fence, if you don't have a citywide fiber optic plan, you guys are going to be deploying fiber citywide. A lot of these commercial providers already have fiber in these markets do. [00:27:30] This is more so an opportunity to partner with them. And thankfully, these partners are really proactive with supporting wireless Internet service providers. And so that has made it so we're not talking about a five to 10 year fiber build out plan. We're talking months instead of years. And so as a result of that, that now has led to a significantly faster deployment timeline, lesser labor costs, while at the same time a more aggressive ability for us to scale even beyond Cleveland's borders even faster because [00:28:00] we're taking advantage of the existing commercial fiber assets that are throughout Cleveland.

Christopher Mitchell (28:04):
Alright, so I'm not saying that I have any hate listeners, right? But there's some people who are listening who I'm sure are like, Chris, last time you had this guy on, he was fiber, fiber, fiber, fiber, fiber, fiber, fiber, fiber. I still am fiber, fiber, fiber. I am.

Joshua Edmonds (28:15):
I love fiber. Look, I am still with that. I look at fiber, I see the potential of fiber even beyond fixed wireless potential. I see that even from a city perspective. I mean the use cases. I mean, yeah, [00:28:30] no, I get it. I think that what we're seeing though, at the same time, if you're going to be a city and you're going to be talking about your digital divide, that you've got this essentially as a digital emergency, then what you're going to do in emergencies, you're going to prioritize the things that fixed wireless offers over fiber.

Christopher Mitchell (28:47):
18 months. 18 months. That's awesome.

Joshua Edmonds (28:50):
We're talking about, I mean, again, we're talking about months, and this isn't 18 months for everybody. We have people connected now, by the end of this month, we should have north [00:29:00] of 30,000 from our new network that we're just building. Now, again, when we want to talk about home pass and we're talk about progress over time, yeah, fixed wireless absolutely is going to give you the stuff that you need, especially with what Tarana can do 100%. But at the same time, I'm not going to sit here and say that fixed wireless is superior to fiber cumulatively. I think that there are arguments that could be made in your respective city that will then justify your involvement in whatever, but our investment, [00:29:30] whatever. I can see why Cleveland did this one. And I can also see why when I was in Detroit specifically using the Hope Village example where they had that 45 day Internet outage where the infrastructure was why fiber made sense there too. And so again, I'm not one of those people that's like, oh, no, no, just because I'm here, I changed hats. No, no. Underneath this shirt, it's still fiber. We love fiber and I still do. So

Christopher Mitchell (29:54):
With your business hat on, then I have to ask about open access then is there a future there? How does that work into

Joshua Edmonds (29:59):
Things? Oh yeah. [00:30:00] No, again, I love open access as well. I love it. I love it. I will stand behind that. Everything that I've ever said about it, I still agree with Open access provides the best way for competition to persist in an ecosystem. I don't care what anyone says, it is the best way for competition. I've heard people say, well, it's a race to the bottom for the consumer.

Christopher Mitchell (30:24):
If we had another 10 minutes on the show, which I don't want to spend too much time, I would think that there's very good conversations around that. [00:30:30] But I agree with you that it is not a horror show for everyone. Race for the bottom necessarily. The

Joshua Edmonds (30:35):
Consumer benefits. And

Christopher Mitchell (30:37):
We've had decades of experience with open access and it's not inevitably erased to the bottom.

Joshua Edmonds (30:41):
So I think the point is for us as a, and to be clear, we also do rely on fiber and where there's fiber that's even going to some of our multi-dwelling units. We will ride that fiber to provide our services too. So it's like, yes, we're fixed wireless. We're also fiber too. We're a hybrid company, [00:31:00] so we believe in both. But when it comes to open access, that's just another point where if there's an open access network that's willing to play ball with DigitalC and that once an affordable Internet operator on their network, we would love to consider that opportunity. Because for us, that's just an opportunity for us to scale any and all opportunities for DigitalC to be able to grow and scale not only the technologies that we use, but the markets we're able to exist. That's great for us, and it's great for the consumer, our price point at $18, we're committed [00:31:30] to that in Cleveland for a decade. A decade that's in the contract.

Christopher Mitchell (31:34):
Let's hope the interest rates stay down

Joshua Edmonds (31:36):
Well, and the good thing is, well, I'm not sure if it's good at this point, but we could adjust for inflation after five years, but congrats, it's $2, it'll be $20. But regardless, 10 years what we agreed to, so we're committed to this, it can't be a thing that every six to months to a year, oh, we got to change the price again. Like, no, we're not doing that. What that then does is it puts pressure [00:32:00] on every other provider in Cleveland because now everyone knows, well, now we got this affordability cloud over here hanging. We can't really nickel and dime these people. We thought, and if we did, we now run the risk of them stealing the market share. So now these providers are going to have to think twice, which the days of the wild wild west are kind of coming to an end. This is what maybe civilization like

Christopher Mitchell (32:21):
Disciplined. You're the sheriff. So are you still doing digital equity in terms of trainings and devices [00:32:30] and things like that? Is DigitalC still doing all that?

Joshua Edmonds (32:32):
Yep, yep, that's exactly right. That was part of the contract as well. So with all the funding that we received, and I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the Mandel Myers Foundations, they were supporters of ours from the very beginning, even before all the other committed money. So they supported us with 20 million as well. So there's been a lot of funding that's been allocated to DigitalC, not only on the infrastructure side, but on the broader digital equity side. I mean, we do our own in-house, but we also contract with our community development corporations as [00:33:00] well as our 5 0 1 c threes. We've been doing the digital literacy and skilling work since even prior to DigitalC'S existence. And so thankfully, I have to give a big shout out to the folks at a SC three, Wanda Davis. She's digital equity legend, even nationally, and we work directly with her as well. And the classes are great. And now that we have not only Cleveland public library and the school district on our board, I know Shelby's going to like me saying that that [00:33:30] leads to us not only being able to get the awareness that we need, but also just the basic broader digital skilling curriculum support from those two entities as well.

Christopher Mitchell (33:41):
Is there a path then in which you have the $30 million coming in, 20 from the city, 10 from the state, and also, we didn't get into all the politics, but there's a lot of politics around that. People want to check that out. Maybe we'll cover that in a future show. Well,

Joshua Edmonds (33:55):
We also have our panel today on that, so right,

Christopher Mitchell (33:57):
Yeah. How to do this. But I'm curious, [00:34:00] what is the path then for you to not be worried about grant funding in the future? Is there a path to some generating enough revenue to cover all the operations, do the digital equity stuff, all that?

Joshua Edmonds (34:10):
Yeah. Well, that's the goal, but I would argue, so maybe it's best to look at DigitalC as maybe separate companies. So on the Internet side, yeah, that's going to be something where we want that and we envision that performing as a business that we are going to scale as a business. We don't really require our need, [00:34:30] the philanthropic funding, though we will never turn it down. We're still a 5 0 1 C3. However, on the actual adoption side, there's no cost to that, to the consumer because the people who need the services the most can't pay anything to get it, at least nothing that's going to justify the cost internally for us from a business standpoint. And so on that side, I do believe that that one is going to require some type of perpetual fundraising or perpetual funding source to support the digital equity activities separate from, again, the network business activities. [00:35:00] That one should be able to stand on its own because we're standing behind that product and it's truly enterprise grade, and we do have a scaled solution for that

Christopher Mitchell (35:09):
In five years. We're hanging out at Cedar Point,

Joshua Edmonds (35:12):
We're going to be hanging out before or five years at Cedar Point. That should be next year.

Christopher Mitchell (35:14):
No, but on our fourth trip to Cedar Point, are there going to be other cities doing this? Are we going to see other nonprofits and other major metros following this model?

Joshua Edmonds (35:23):
They will definitively, I can say that they will what DigitalC is going to do, and let's look at just the [00:35:30] broader backdrop here. Just last week we announced the ACP freeze. The ACP freeze hurts which areas per capita the most in this country, the cities. And so it's like if we know that, then what is the long-term solution? See, as long as you always have an ACP, it doesn't really force you to get into that old quote that my dad used to always say, which is necessity is the mother of invention. Well, where's the necessity? If I have this subsidy, I can always point to when the subsidy's [00:36:00] gone or when it's frozen, these people are essentially frozen out of this. Well, now what is the thing that we're inventing? What does it make us see now that this has gone, oh God, we got to figure it out.

We got to go deeper. We need to go further. And what is deeper and what is further from affordability? It'll be affordable infrastructure that then is built from a public company's lens, not from a publicly traded one, but one that's operating in the public's interest versus the interest of shareholders. At that point, someone's going to sit there and say, yeah, we need to then think [00:36:30] about it this way. And so as a result, I would argue you will see more examples of these citywide fixed wireless buildouts that again, are more cost efficient to deliver, faster to deliver, and have now insanely competitive speeds that don't require high costs to pay off the infrastructure. Thank you so much for your time today, Joshua. Thank you for having me. Again,

Ry Marcattilio (36:52):
We have transcripts for this and other podcasts available at Email [00:37:00] with your ideas for the show. Follow Chris on Twitter. His handle is at communitynets. Follow stories on Twitter, the handles at muni networks. Subscribe to this and other podcasts from ILSR, including Building Local Power, local Energy Rules, and the Composting for Community Podcast. You can access them anywhere you get your podcasts. You can catch the latest important research from all of our initiatives if you subscribe to our monthly [00:37:30] While you're there, please take a moment to donate your support in any amount. Keeps us going. Thank you to Arnie Sby for the song Warm Duck Shuffle, licensed through Creative Commons.