Unlocking Community-Driven Broadband Initiatives with Brian Snider - Episode 593 of the Community Broadband Bits Podcast

In this podcast episode, Christopher engages in a discussion with Brian Snider, the founder of Lit Communities. They explore Brian's extensive background in the broadband industry and delve into the importance of community-driven broadband initiatives in today's landscape.

Chris and Brian emphasize the need for innovative business models to effectively address the digital divide, ensuring equitable access to high-quality broadband services for all communities. Additionally, they shed light on the complexities of navigating private equity involvement, highlighting the importance of community empowerment in managing broadband infrastructure.

The episode concludes with Brian underscoring the pivotal role of education and workforce development in shaping the future of the broadband industry. He also emphasizes the necessity for communities to take control of their broadband destinies.

This show is 40 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.


Brian Snider (00:07):
To every community out there, yes, to a certain portion. You can own a bit of this broadband boom that is happening now. Welcome

Christopher Mitchell (00:16):
To another episode of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. I'm Christopher Mitchell at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance and my voice is still not fully there. [00:00:30] Talking to Brian Snider today who is currently a small business owner, the proprietor of a sporting card store. Brian, I think a lot of people are going to recognize the name from Lit Communities or elsewhere, but how are you doing?

Brian Snider (00:45):
I'm good, Chris. I'm probably dealing with the same voice items this evening as you are, so hopefully folks can just understand us tonight. That'll be the main thing. But I'm good, man. Always good to talking to you.

Christopher Mitchell (00:58):
Well, and I always enjoy talking [00:01:00] with you too. We're going to talk a little bit about your movement through the industry and just I think talk candidly about some of the stuff that we've seen going on and we're going to talk about your hashtag, it's always feasible, something that I've associated with you personally and something that I like. And we're going to just chat a bit because kind of a free agent right now. And so what better time to pick your brain?

Brian Snider (01:26):
That's going to be a fun show. I'm looking forward to it. [00:01:30] Where do you want to start?

Christopher Mitchell (01:31):
Yeah, I was just going to say, let me do the quick version for people who aren't as familiar, which is that you basically engineer and build fiber networks. You've done that for different folks. Then you did it with a company that you created and several of those networks are still being built, but you transitioned out of that role. And we'll just talk a little bit about that and a little bit about maybe where you're going, but really what I'm interested in is helping people get a sense of some of the pathways through this whole field. [00:02:00] So we're going to talk about how you got into it and how you moved around

Brian Snider (02:02):
In it. It is a good topic to bring up because this isn't what a lot of people go to high school and they say, what do you want to do after and go to college? And they're not going to sit there and tell you, I want to be an outside plant engineer. I never thought that when I was going to high school and nobody probably understood what that was. And I think now that when folks are in the industry, they look at even poles different. It's like you drive down the road and you'll look [00:02:30] at polls just because you understand what make ready is and what's putting on those poles. But when I started out, I guess I've been in the industry for a while now and I started out as actually a drafter for AT&T's first release of their U-verse projects when they were converting plain old telephone lines with basically a vRad that you could send DSL [00:03:00] service, I guess it was DSL. I don't even, back then I was so naive I didn't know what I was doing.

Christopher Mitchell (03:06):
I remember this time, I think what happened was Verizon was recognized the benefits of fiber and they got into fiber and AT&T had been messing around with fiber too, but AT&TI think understood Wall Street a bit better and Verizon was like, we're going to invest in fiber to make sure we don't fall behind. And Wall Street was like, it's too much money and you're not going to make enough in the short term. We don't care about long-term benefits of the company. And AT&T I think [00:03:30] understanding the way Wall Street works said, well, we're going to invest in a little bit of fiber and we're going to get more life out of the copper plant and it's not going to be a good service, but we're going to advertise the heck out of it and it's going to be the best game in town and it's going to be good enough, not good for America, but it'll be good for our bottom line in the short term. So you are designing that?

Brian Snider (03:51):
Yes, yes. You're spot on too. And that's why I was saying I think a lot of my naivety and growth happened throughout my career [00:04:00] from that and it was the way it was looked at a high level and unfortunately it's still why people are unconnected today too from that aspect, but a lot of the design and engineering work we actually streamlined. That's where I met one of my great friends in the industry, Patrick Hutto, one of the smartest guys I knew. I realized really quickly that he was smarter than me, so I became very good friends with him [00:04:30] and we created basically a system that streamlined the process for AT&T's u-verse deployment and eventually AT&T asked that we take over the whole state of Alabama and southeast Louisiana dove in headfirst. We were very, very successful for a good period of time, but that is when some of the things you were mentioning were taking bigger place and there were at levels that I was not [00:05:00] privy to and we were a contractor.

I was always a contractor for every company I talk about except for the ones that ultimately I took ownership of. But we basically, the Uverse project got pulled and I just had my first son and the contracting company I was with basically said, we don't have a job for you. And it was kind of the learning the world of I need to learn more of this industry. I needed to learn more than just sitting [00:05:30] at a desk and cutting out engineering existing plats and fiber, only going to a vRad and then using existing plant, there's so much more out there. So I moved to Huntsville, Alabama, which is like engineering nerd capital of the world, and I was educated by some, actually in this industry you pretty much go from contract to contract to contract, especially when you are a contractor and we would get paid through whoever had the primary [00:06:00] contract and so we were still going to work for AT&T, but this was called Business as Usual or BAU work and what they would call it.

So if a business ordered a fiber line, we would run it to them. If a new subdivision was being built, we were building fiber to those areas. Huntsville was building a lot of fiber and especially back then and it was like a one-on-one class for me. I met some of the best engineers AT&T that I have huge respect for, which [00:06:30] taught me a lot of the industry. I met Chris Smith that works at Lit now that he actually took myself and my brother-in-Law, our first just engineering job that was actually out in the field and that was for, I did that U-verse project for almost five, six years, and that was really my first time of actually seeing what I was building in the field and walking and measuring things and actually doing engineering work. What we were doing earlier was just design work.

It wasn't really engineering, [00:07:00] I guess if you want to describe it that way. This was like 1 0 1 and what it takes to actually build, get permits, work with the city, work with the municipality on behalf of AT&T, and then getting everything approved and built, and then you would also update as-builts as they came back from the field, you would talk to construction because AT&T used for their pricing system work steps for their contractors and employees that would be tied to a billing [00:07:30] system. The problem was AT&T was still using Bell South's antiquated software, which made it very difficult on the contractors and we had to try to make margins on low prices and the good thing was we used other technology to do that, so we took their systems and found ways to combine it that streamlined our process.

Christopher Mitchell (07:52):
You mentioned as-builts, which I feel like I always thought it was pretty cool as you get a sense of how this stuff really works, where as you said [00:08:00] originally you're the person that's not out in the field and you draw it up based on the records that you can find as to the best, most efficient way to build the network and then someone's out there, I saw this on my own street and the right of way was smaller and more clogged than the engineer that designed it thought, and so they had to go back and do a change order and do it a different way, and if you don't ever update the original paperwork, then 10 years later someone comes along and they're like, this is not where it's supposed to be. [00:08:30] So you get as-builts to keep track of things you are doing on the job training it sounds like.

Brian Snider (08:35):
Pretty much. I was actually engineering and managing eventually all of North Alabama, Birmingham and the Huntsville area for all of their business as usual work, and then they brought the U-verse project back when they first told me they were bringing that project back, I asked them why, because I knew a lot more about technology [00:09:00] and where things were going now. They were combining power and fiber at the time, which was unbelievably expensive. They called it fiddle, which I have no idea what it stands for. This is the industry of acronyms for sure. Everybody seems to want to come out with a different one all the time, but they brought the Universe project back in a way that was very intriguing to me because it was innovative for AT&T and one of my mentors, I [00:09:30] would say that worked for AT&T and currently does.

Nathan Emerson is one of the best I'd say all around guys knowing how to construct, operate, engineer these networks. He was my counterpart on that project and that's why I'm in Birmingham, Alabama today. At one point I had almost, I think 400 employees and we handled the states of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida, and the only thing that we had out in the field was field technicians and [00:10:00] everything was in-house in Alabama. So we had a call center for the text to call in and change work orders as-builts live. So you can't beat that from that perspective in regards to streamlining things and then being able to quickly test and get it to AT&T marketing. And because of that process that we were able to work and I was able to, it was I guess the definition of how a contractor and client from that perspective, no matter who they are, [00:10:30] if they work together, how successful you could be.

So we had a 36 month build plan and by 24 months we're 12 months ahead. We were basically finished with our 36 month build plan. Everything was going to keep going and that's when Google Fiber kind of disrupted the industry, not kind of, they did disrupt the industry, let's just call it what it is. And so during this time and at the end of that project, that's when Google started to go to Kansas City and then they announced Austin and we slowly switched [00:11:00] our design center to doing the Uverse project across four states to only doing fiber the home in Alabama, and I ended up having to let a lot of people go. That was tough. That's just again, part of the contracting world where you're unfortunately bouncing from project to project, which especially a lot of these larger carriers, I think some of the smaller ISPs are a little bit different to work with from that perspective. Just to be candid with you, we said we're going to be candid, right? [00:11:30] Yeah.

Christopher Mitchell (11:30):
Well let me ask you, so one of the other things that I wanted to pull out is something that I feel like people don't always appreciate, which is you had mentioned that AT&T was using the old Bell South software, and I don't think people appreciate the extent to which we think of a company called Comcast, and Comcast is a Frankenstein of hundreds of different companies that were built in different ways often with no good record keeping. They don't have a system that really works [00:12:00] across everything. They've got a whole bunch of systems that are hacked together. AT&T is kind of the same thing we call it AT&T, but it's actually just one of the pieces of AT&T that was broken off in 84 and then ultimately took everything back over again. I'm curious then as you move to Google Fiber, something that was built brand new with fiber in mind, the tools that they were using, was that just a whole different world then that you didn't have these old ancient systems that barely talked to each other?

Brian Snider (12:28):
Yeah, I think it's cool that you called us out. [00:12:30] We don't really talk about it that much in the industry, and you're right, even amongst AT&T's areas that you would work in, you would have to use different systems. So if you did a project in Texas for AT&T, you would have to use one of their old Bell South systems or new AT&T systems that they rolled out and if you did a job in Alabama, you'd have to use a different system and then going to Google Fiber, it was all new technology from that standpoint and it was googley, so it was a completely [00:13:00] different environment that we were not, we weren't used to, and I think Google going into Austin, I still think their organic builds would've been different if they chose a different city because Austin is hard to build out in no matter who you are or what you're trying to do, and I think Google had the red carpet rolled out for them a little bit too much in Kansas City.

It was a big deal at the time and they're doing a great job there now. So I think they've learned [00:13:30] some things from that side, but in Austin, you were going to go by Austin's rules in the right of way and I think understanding what the actual process to build was, and that was the difference between the two companies. Google, Fiber had really, really cool software that was great to use, but it wasn't accurate potentially because of Asbuilt issues that we were talking about too. Getting posted to that software accurately and how things were actually run and work with the city [00:14:00] in regards to permitting and approvals and what the city of Austin requires for their waterworks department and everything that was part of that process, I don't think Google was fully prepared for and we were able to come in and work for the main contractor that was working for Google Fiber and really help to turn that project around. It was more of a, I always say this this way, we were like marriage counselors more than designers and engineers this time.

Christopher Mitchell (14:30):
[00:14:30] I've heard that from so many people and frankly what's amazing to me is that if you talk to people that worked on projects that got started four years after that, they're still making the same mistakes. I mean, it was like they were very insistent that the world would conform to the way that they wanted to do things and didn't recognize that although people were thrilled to have that Google fiber investment, it was not thrilling enough to change the way that they had done business for decades.

Brian Snider (14:55):
Yeah, you're right. We started doing additional work with Google Fiber, but [00:15:00] I was mentioning AT&T, even though they use antiquated systems, they could build a network. That was one thing. They ultimately could do their contractors and all of us contractors, I think there's a bond between us from that side. It is like we got crap done and we got that stuff built from that side and we still got it built for Google Fiber and we helped out in San Antonio, Salt Lake City, we started analyzing new markets that got into doing what everybody was calling feasibility studies. At the time, I didn't understand this because [00:15:30] of I was only been under the AT&T and Google Fiber umbrella throughout my career at this point, but after watching Google from even afar and sitting back is when the idea of ultimately what became Lit was born.

Now the path to get to Lit was interesting from that standpoint on at one point we were going to be a full open access network and we even [00:16:00] called ourselves a vada networks and things like that just because of the description and at this time it was 2000, I want to say 14 or 15. It was to me too early for what we're seeing right now with open access in the industry and things like that. It was even harder to explain what open access was back then. I found it extremely intriguing. I loved at that point researching the business models and I think that then ties [00:16:30] what you were describing before I went from a drafter to now figuring out how financial models work to building a business plan to sell it to a provider that's going to eventually sell their network in the future.

It was like learning 101 because we were starting to plan these networks out for other providers and we were planning 'em out for the biggest ones in the country. From that side, the value in [00:17:00] what I saw was missing was nobody was working with the tier two and tier three and tier four cities at the time. Everybody was focused on the tier one big cities. Let's build as much fiber as we can and let's own it. We slowly saw Verizon converge that and we started working on those projects as well. So at one point we were doing a lot of AT&T work where we were just leasing fibers back to Verizon from that side, and then, so I don't know if about 10 years ago [00:17:30] is right, maybe further, but that's when Verizon decided they wanted to build their own fiber for their 5G densification that they were trying to work and we did Cleveland, Nashville, Knoxville, Seattle, San Francisco, everybody was building out fiber in these major cities and what you said is you're surprised at how congested the right of ways are and they were just getting more congested.

So in my mind, I stayed up one night and I thought it was a great idea that [00:18:00] should focus on community broadband should lead the way and watching Google struggle watching Verizon, all of them struggled and they're all still struggling from that side. I think it is really hard to get all of these different components moving systematically. We did it on one project. I felt like we could do it again and we consistently did that with every project we worked on. The issue was that I learned is there was a huge gap [00:18:30] that was missing. I actually pitched the idea to Google Fiber and they don't believe in org chart, so it didn't really go anywhere and from that side it was like have the community should own a portion of the network. In my mind, they should at least own the Anchor institutes and connection or the Middle Mile or backbone network, whatever you want to call it from that side, but it's really the diversity and redundancy of the network and then as a [00:19:00] last mile, no matter if you're open access or an ISP, you're reducing your cost by just leasing off of that fiber.

The other piece that I saw that was missing at the time in regards to creating a solid P three partnership was a revenue sharing model. Everybody first they want to own their network a hundred percent. I think some of it is because it was piecemealed through acquisition after acquisition after acquisition and the network infrastructure was not built the right way from the start. [00:19:30] That's one thing that I can give Google fiber from that position, they were building out a fiber infrastructure through and through a hundred percent, so you're getting gig speed up and down, you're not getting fiber to the note or some of this false advertising that we're seeing right now. That is another game that smaller ISPs have to fight against. It's who has more money in their marketing and sales budget and advertising budgets.

Christopher Mitchell (19:52):
You work with Google Fiber for a bit and just in the interest of time, we're going to fast forward a bit. You end up moving [00:20:00] over to work with Neighborly that doesn't get as far as you'd hoped it would. Neighborly kind of falls apart and then you end up forming Lit communities and actually working with Medina County, which had been a neighborly project, it was sort of almost cut loose, but you kept working with them to make sure it would move forward and then you start to get more ambitious I feel like.

Brian Snider (20:25):
Yeah, yeah, that's right. What we're trying to create and I think [00:20:30] the overall structure that was starting to brew in the industry, there was some neighborly had the right idea and intention, but finally just got to a point where I think I realized I needed to do it on my own from that scenario and then with a group that was very loyal not only from folks that came and worked at Lit after I started it, but also Medina County, that partnership can't be spoken highly of like I am. [00:21:00] Dave Carrado is an amazing human being. I've got so much respect for him. He basically ran the Medina County Fiber Network project by himself with a great economic developer, Bethany ler, I can't go wrong with saying her name as well. They started looking at fiber back in the early two thousands, so you got to give them major props for what they set up and that's what we were looking at when we were starting to do, I know this [00:21:30] is kind of building into that segue, it's always feasible.

We weren't doing feasibility studies. We were trying to find markets that we could go deploy fiber in and find business plans and give them something to go execute on. You've got consultants that are just going to drag out consultancy, which is unfortunate in this industry. We wanted to change that and that's why I always use that hashtag, it's always feasible because you can always make a unique business plan. We proved that out in Medina, so Medina County, 151 Middle Mile network, [00:22:00] we connected to it. We paid revenue sharing based on every customer that subscribed to the network, but it took almost two years from 2019 when we created the company. We basically bootstrapped and worked our way through COVID and all of the good times when everything kind of got going to where we finally met Stevens and TPO and raised our initial round of private equity to start the project. That was interesting to just go through the startup life [00:22:30] honestly was looking back, I wouldn't change a thing. It was such a grind, but it was so much fun learning how to just navigate that world and I guess that's what I'm looking forward to next as well.

Christopher Mitchell (22:42):
Well, let's talk about that. It's always feasible. Before we talk about the private equity, I'll just note it's always driven me nuts because some of the communities I've known where I've talked with them and I'm like, you know what? You are not a good candidate for a traditional [00:23:00] municipal, triple play citywide kind of network. I don't think the numbers work out well for you, but you could do something if you're creative and you're not going to build out the entire town in four years, but you could get going and maybe in 10 or 15 years you'd find a path. And then I would see them work with a consultant, and I'm not talking about some fly by night ones. I'm talking about some of the ones that people respect and they work with a consultant and they ask for a creative plan and they get back a business model as though they're just the public version [00:23:30] of Comcast with no creativity and then they're just like, well, I guess we don't have a path.

And it broke my heart and I saw Hillsborough is one of the communities and I freaked out at the time Hillsborough, Oregon because I was like, there's a path there. Are you kidding me? And they're doing well now. They're moving forward, they've got a good plan and because they didn't go with some cookie cutter triple play kind of approach, they're creative about it. So anyway, that's the context that I bring. If you're telling me that it's not feasible to build [00:24:00] a fiber network in Palo Alto at a time when you have a Comcast option and you have at TDSL, what is it about Chattanooga that demands fiber to every home that in Palo Alto you don't have that demand? It just freaks me out a little bit.

Brian Snider (24:15):
Yeah, what's fortunate is, and I guess it took a pandemic to do it, but we would probably be having the conversation frustration still now if COVID didn't happen because it was like people that we [00:24:30] were having conversations about and I say we communities that we're having conversations with, some of 'em did buy into it, and I think that's one thing that I think we're extremely proud of is every single one of our markets move forward. That's the biggest piece. We might not be the final anchor tenant that ultimately works with them, but we can give them a business plan and a roadmap to show them how to be successful. And actually I just saw somebody something post [00:25:00] I think with Gigi and Benton just guiding communities on whether they should do this from that scenario and to every community out there, yes, to a certain portion, you can own a bit of this broadband boom that is happening now. But it did drive me nuts as well too where continuously doing feasibility studies and then seeing a community that a year later in the same position just made [00:25:30] absolutely no sense to me when a year later they could have been building out and receiving revenue and better connectivity and actually just bringing new businesses into the community and bringing new people are moving. Obviously COVID exposed all that. So that was why we were having a different conversation today than we probably would if COVID never happened.

Christopher Mitchell (25:51):
Now, when we say it's always feasible, I think it's worth noting that it doesn't mean that everyone can immediately build out residential, and I think it's helpful to use the Broomfield example. [00:26:00] So you just want to share what happened there.

Brian Snider (26:02):
Yeah, it was basically just by thinking of this as a long-term utility showing a business plan that we built out over a 20 year period just from not paying the incumbent and doing it internally through interconnectivity, they were able to save enough money and raise just through bonds and built out a middle mile connection that connected all of their main sewer and water facilities, which all it took was just [00:26:30] converting off of their current incumbent provider who is usually taking advantage of a lot of not only governments, but residents and businesses as well because they know they're the only game in town that's not fair and shouldn't be looked at right by the communities from that side too. So that's where if you look at it the right way and you look at a different, there's all kinds of different business models that you can work on and that's why the term it's always feasible comes into play. It is always feasible. You just have [00:27:00] to look at it sometimes from a different angle and make sure you have the right partners that have your back. And in this industry, if everybody has their back, everybody can make money and be successful. It's just sometimes I guess a little GRE gets thrown in there.

Christopher Mitchell (27:14):
Well, I mean in economics textbooks, they call this the principle agent problem. I don't know if you know what I'm driving at, but if you're the IT director of a city and you got a lot of things that you got to be in charge of and you're looking at this and you might be thinking, well down one path, [00:27:30] I just make a phone call and the city's going to overpay for connectivity and the incumbent is going to make these connections and ultimately no one's going to blame me. This is a fairly reasonable thing to do. Down the other path is uncertainty. If things go wrong, I'm going to get in trouble. It's going to be more work. The city's going to save a heck of a lot of money, but my budget's not going to change. And so you have people who are making these calls on whether or not to save the city money and they have no real [00:28:00] benefit to take the harder path which is better for the community. And so that's where we end up where we are. I mean, I think that's what happens in a lot of places

Brian Snider (28:08):
And Broomfield's booming from that side. They have one of the best public school systems in the whole state of Colorado with what they're doing. And then now let's take vice versa, and this is where I'll be again completely transparent from that side. If you want to do a little bit of digging where I went to high school, there's a city that has had basically fiber owned [00:28:30] and run around their city for the past 20 years and they also, the commissioners there think their city is served and every resident is getting proper service and things like that too. And the phone call did not end very well because I told 'em I was disappointed to understand that they had that type of economic development opportunities sitting at their fingertips for the past 20 years and have not taken advantage of it because I still think that's a big piece of the [00:29:00] industry that's missing and can be rectified if worked on the right way is every single strand of fiber can be monetized and you got a lot of municipalities and companies out there that are building 288 strands of fiber, 144 strands of fiber, and they're only using 24 or 12.

It's we can use and monetize these things to such a different level and hopefully we're going to do it faster than what we were thinking before. I think is [00:29:30] the cool part.

Christopher Mitchell (29:30):
Yes. Okay, so I'd love to keep talking about that, but let's move on to private equity then. My impression is that you raised private equity because you needed to make the dream and then ultimately I think your vision and that of the private equity wasn't close enough and you had to move on.

Brian Snider (29:51):
This industry is high capital intensive to build out and ultimately for us to accomplish what [00:30:00] we needed to, we had to raise a lot of money. We raised 225 million ultimately in the span of from when we started in 2019 till now, and I think that's flying under the radar in Birmingham, Alabama. There's not been a company that's even touched that I guess from that scenario, and that's something to be proud of, but at the same time, I think it's just a shift overall in the industry that has occurred. It was when we originally laid Lits, I think [00:30:30] vision out and what we were proposing at the time, again, this was pre COVID, so we were just going to build out a couple 10, 20, 30,000 homes in different spots all across the country, southeast, Midwest, out west, and it turned into a point now where it's a land race, it's a complete land race that I did not think would accelerate as fast as it has.

I think I did not envision what we're seeing, and it's a great [00:31:00] thing in the sense that areas that I was talking about previously that were the cost per household pass was a little bit higher are now being looked at private equity differently, but now you have then the next range of homes that are sitting outside that range of world that you're going to have to find an alternative solution still, because we're past 50% I think is the stat I read of passing homes with fiber, which who knows if you can believe that or not, but

Christopher Mitchell (31:29):
We're pretty [00:31:30] close. Yeah, I think we're right around there,

Brian Snider (31:31):
But at the same time, I think private equity could get us another 30%, let's say, but how are we going to get to that last 20%? And that was a good conversation. You and I were at the New York Federal event with Connect Humanity and I thought it was a lot of good conversations, but it is a lot of repeat conversations that we've had that is how are you going to get to the most remote parts of these areas and there has to [00:32:00] be different solutions and it is feasible. I think from that side, it just has to be looked at differently and that's the big topic and I think it's more of equity and I say private equity from that sense, but even how banks look at investments now are completely different. I think we can adjust subjects as well if you want to, but I think how this plays into upcoming BEAD funding and recent RDOF funding is going to be extremely interesting.

And then you do [00:32:30] layer private equity and debt now and some of even the, I think private bonds that have been created through KeyBank and partnerships, what Utopia is doing, it's such a just me saying those things and I think hearing those things, it's crazy to say it when two years ago we would never be probably having these conversations three years ago, however long of the case may be, and I think it's cool to see that, but we're still, to me, we still have [00:33:00] a huge, huge digital gap that has to be bridged and we're still not there. I guess from that standpoint, it's like we've gained a lot, but there's still a lot of missing pieces that we have to figure out how to plug in, and I'm excited about trying to figure that out. I've

Christopher Mitchell (33:18):
Long thought about this in terms of trying to figure out, there's people I disagree with, there's people that I agree with, and in both cases we may or may not be rowing in the same direction, [00:33:30] and I think about this often in discussion with a company like Comcast where I'm talking to a community and I'm, I'm not saying that Comcast is a bad company, but they're rowing in a different direction from where you need to go, and now I feel like we have, if we're going to use a water metaphor, sharks or others fake boats, I guess maybe people who are just trying to figure out how to take your boat away from you. It is like all this money has really brought people in who are charlatans and [00:34:00] it's worrisome. I think you've said you've seen some of this.

Brian Snider (34:03):
I think the educational piece around this is at a level that is completely different than what I thought it would be at. It's just the, I didn't think 5G would actually be as competitive actually is, and us in the industry, we look at it as a joke, but if you don't understand how the technology actually works, they're buying Superbowl ads and putting it out there that, [00:34:30] I mean ts sprint and I think it's an absolute joke that they advertise that they have national 5G coverage. You're fighting a different competitor, but that is where I think the community and the P three partnerships and just having a complete buy-in into what you're doing. We've proven it out in other markets as well too, that you can go up against those big guys if you do it the right way, and some of it is just about being transparent and loyal to those customers [00:35:00] and they're going to stay on for life if you give them what they want and educate them along the way. But it's not just education at the customer level, it's also education at the investor level. I even think at the investor level, we're still too old school mentality thinking.

Christopher Mitchell (35:16):
One of the things I would say to that is you've studied these spreadsheets and so you know that a five percentage point change in customer acquisition in the crucial year is the difference between success and loss. [00:35:30] And so if you're talking about 5G taking 5% of the market, well that's realistic. 5G is not going to take 40% of the market, but they can screw your business plan

Brian Snider (35:39):
And it's enough even from satellite and that perspective as well too, where you have to kind of debunk the whole fallacies of what these networks can actually deliver and then what a true fiber can network could actually deliver and then do. I think that's the other piece that's really missing in this as well, [00:36:00] and that's where the community has to get involved, especially community advocates that we want to work with, and I know you and Community Networks and Institute for Local Self-Reliance want to work on from that perspective as well too, which is why we are rowing the ship in the same direction. From that perspective, it is like you want to work with communities that are really just going to get it and buy in, and once they do, I always just compare it as basic as [00:36:30] the community owns the right of way. They got full control over that, so take advantage of it from any perspective that they can. Now, there might be certain regulations that are restricting them, but it's always feasible. There's always a way around that. There's always a way to ultimately work out this plan from that side and yeah, I don't know where I was even going at this

Christopher Mitchell (36:50):
Point. Well, that's what happens later in the night, but this has been great. I think it's a fun tour of what we've seen [00:37:00] for folks who aren't as familiar with it, and one of the things I would just end up with I think is coming back to where you said, which is that you and many of the other people I found here, you didn't choose this path. No one knows that this path is available is people just sort of get pulled into it in different ways, and I think that's pretty interesting. It's like many of the people I found who do the outside plant building, the networks are people that are in hunting and fishing and they're not really even [00:37:30] using the networks that much. I mean in South Minneapolis, the guys I met who are out there splicing day in and day out, they have this five-year-old cell phone and they don't do anything IT related for them. It's just a job.

Brian Snider (37:43):
Yeah, no, I think that's the cool thing about this industry that's about, and that's one thing I really do like about the BEAD program that's coming out is it's so workforce development focus that is going to generate new jobs that are going to eventually create the future Lits. [00:38:00] They'll work through this same process that I evolve through, and I think that's cool. That's part of what is great about this country from that perspective as well too, but it is also something that needs to be identified. There is a huge workforce issue with the amount of money that's going to be able to be spent in this industry, so there's going to have to be bigger workforce programs that need to get created for splicers and a lineman, construction [00:38:30] workers drafters can just sit at home and draft for other countries if they wanted to from that side.

It's crazy the opportunities that this industry brings, and I think everybody should try to look at it a little bit differently and then ask their schools from that side if there's not a telecommunications program involved, their fiber program involved there, drafting design, there's a lot of things that tie in to doing this [00:39:00] that you could ultimately make a long, long-term career out of that, I think. Cool. Yeah, it's given me my IT entrepreneur spirit. It just took me a little bit to get there, I guess, but I wouldn't regret any part of the journey, and I've met some of the greatest people in the world because of it. Yourself included. Yeah, always enjoyed talking to you, Chris.

Christopher Mitchell (39:21):
Excellent. Well, thank you so much for your time today and we'll look forward to catching up with you again soon.

Brian Snider (39:27):
Thanks, Chris.

Ry Marcattilio (39:28):
We have transcripts for this [00:39:30] and other podcasts available@communitynets.org slash broadbandbits. Email us@podcastmuninetworks.org with your ideas for the show. Follow Chris on Twitter. His handle is at Community nets. Follow community nets.org 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. [00:40:00] You can catch the latest important research from all of our initiatives if you subscribe to our monthly newsletter@ilsr.org. 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 comments.