From a business strategy standpoint, the existing management will not be around forever. Someone will always need to know where the network lies, and GIS is critical for that.
Nevada County Fiber Leverages GIS to Expand Broadband Service
Andrew Wilkinson, founder of Nevada County Fiber (NevCoFiber), is living in the middle of our nation's digital divide. "We used to think our 6 Mbps DSL service was great, but bandwidth needs have continued to grow." Wilkinson was faced with either selling and moving to a location that has fiber-optic broadband or fixing the issue himself. He chose to stay and fix the problem himself.
This is how Nevada County Fiber came to be. "The reason that NevCoFiber was founded was to fix the internet shortcomings for myself and my neighbors," said Wilkinson. Having spent over 20 years working for technology companies, he was able to leverage his experience in business and engineering to find a successful way to bring affordable underground gigabit broadband to his community.
Much of NevCoFiber's early success is credited to geographic information system (GIS) technology. Wilkinson knew he would be building long-term infrastructure and wanted to establish a secure and scalable cloud-based system for his data. While searching for an easy and reliable spatial platform, Esri was a clear choice to host, manage, and analyze his spatial data.
Broadband Management with GIS
The effort to collect accurate and dependable data in the field started immediately at NevCoFiber. For field data collection, NevCoFiber staff utilized a Trimble Catalyst GNSS receiver and Esri ArcGIS Field Maps. This enabled them to collect centimeter-accuracy data on the company's broadband rights-of-way and other physical features. They deployed the affordable cloud-based GIS system without costly on-site hardware and IT support.
"The Trimble and Esri systems were very affordable for our startup operating on a limited budget," Wilkinson said. The cost of the Trimble receiver, coupled with the affordable ArcGIS software, was a perfect fit for NevCoFiber.
When it realized it would need help configuring web maps and apps, NevCoFiber engaged the services of Esri partner Platte River Analytics. Platte River trained NevCoFiber staff in collecting data in the field, creating online maps, and developing efficient workflows with ArcGIS Online. Platte River also assisted staff with custom landowner maps to ensure accurate communication.
Utilizing the collected field data in ArcGIS Online, NevCoFiber now knows the location of its fiber-optic lines including access points, rights-of-way, and other assets. NevCoFiber benefits from its web maps by visualizing data layers such as tax parcels, topography, and demographic data. Staff regularly utilize American Community Survey data from ArcGIS Living Atlas of the World to visualize funding at a census block level. The parcel data from Nevada County is instrumental in evaluating rights-of-way.
GIS Assists with County and State Funding
NevCoFiber quickly realized that the way to succeed in broadband is to "start small, learn quickly, and prove that we can build a reliable and fast underground network."
While meeting with the supervisors at the County of Nevada, Wilkinson was introduced to the Last-Mile Broadband Grant designed to improve local broadband and worked with county officials to detail why this approach to increase broadband service would work.
GIS played a key role in the relationship between NevCoFiber and the county grants. The company and the county consistently shared data back and forth, and NevCoFiber utilized multiple county data layers, including parcels, in its GIS workflows. Maps and spatial data are required in many grant forms to apply for state or federal funding. With ArcGIS, custom maps are easily produced.
NevCoFiber was fortunate to receive additional funding from the California Advanced Services Fund and the County of Nevada that will be instrumental in its broadband buildout.
The Value of GIS in Fiber Management
"Because we have over four miles of fiber in the ground, not knowing where that fiber is located would be a very bad business strategy. Without GIS, you are flying blind," Wilkinson said. The cost savings of having a reliable GIS system at NevCoFiber has been substantial.
The next steps for NevCoFiber and its GIS are to solidify workflows and begin a documentation process. Wilkinson expects that the company will scale past his "bandwidth." He wants to establish a standard he can use to train new partners in the future. He is excited to work with Platte River Analytics to help scale the GIS system and grow its service offerings.