From Connectivity to Connection
A Conversation with Broadband Attorney/Consultant/Advocate, Lindsay Miller
Lindsay Miller is President of Lit Consulting, part of Lit Communities, a broadband consulting, construction, and design company that collaborates with communities across the country in public-private partnerships (P3s) to deploy fiber and wireless networks and address local digital divides.
Miller has more than 15 years of experience in broadband. Her tenure has included working as a public affairs attorney and broadband advocate focused on state and national policy and helping to forge and empower the P3s needed to grow this critical infrastructure and close digital divides across our county.
Here she shares her thoughts on the unprecedented opportunities for communities of all sizes to foster widespread access to and utilization of the digital technologies that underpin our daily lives.
First, what makes now such a critical time in community-led broadband, and what role does your company play in fostering these opportunities?
Lindsay Miller: If there can be a silver lining to the pandemic, it’s the widespread awareness of this pervasive issue and injection of unprecedented amounts of funds across the country to try to address it.
As a society, we cannot let this opportunity pass, but these are complex tasks. It takes a village, sometimes literally, and no two communities are alike. Each has its unique mix of stakeholders such as schools, healthcare providers, private employers, local governments, and incumbent utility providers. And each community has its own blend of leadership and appetite for change.
To us, the process begins with assessing what’s there, where the community wants to go, and how we can help get them there. My role as President of Lit Consulting is to lead the team that provides the community assessment, service access mapping, incumbent provider analysis, financial and network modeling, and more for these communities to ultimately inform and forge their digital transformations.
As our CEO says, Lit is a Swiss Army knife, if you will, for community broadband internet expansion.
How did you get here yourself, and why the passion for this space?
Lindsay Miller: I certainly didn’t grow up thinking “I want to work in broadband.” But I was fortunate to fall into it while serving as an AmeriCorps VISTA member after college.
However, unlike many of my colleagues at Lit, I’m not a technology or construction person. I have degrees in psychology and public policy and a law degree. My work with AmeriCorps, my experience at the Federal Communications Commission, and later as Executive Director of Connect Ohio and as Broadband Research and Policy Counsel for Connected Nation grew my commitment to closing our nation’s digital divides. I then practiced broadband and telecommunications law with a large Midwest law firm for several years, predominantly representing governments, before joining Lit Communities.
And I’m thrilled to be here. Social impact is woven into the fabric of Lit Communities and it’s very invigorating. I get to work daily with colleagues and community leaders who share my passion for broadband access, digital inclusion and digital equity within every community and its institutions.
A silver lining to COVID-19? Can you elaborate?
Lindsay Miller: The rush to work from home, learn from home, shop from home, you name it, that resulted from the COVID-19 shutdowns underscored the need for ubiquitous, robust connectivity and prompted both the funding and communal energy to help make it happen.
The need was already there but the pandemic made it that much more acute. Our collective responses now will help create a better future and more opportunities for millions of people who otherwise faced years of continuing to go without.
But just what is sufficient service? And how should that idea come into play as we allocate resources?
Lindsay Miller: For starters, it’s not just about speed and bandwidth. Those are the performance numbers that we can understand and measure, and thus the reference point for many.
But, to me, “sufficient service” is what an individual, business, or anchor institution needs to perform its day-to-day activities, and be equipped with service that can scale as those activities augment and change. It’s not simply, “do you have access to X Mbps download and Y Mbps upload,” but more so “do you have access to the speeds and reliability that you (individual, business, anchor) need to perform what you want/ need to do today and into the future.”
What are the social and economic impacts of this level of service?
Lindsay Miller: In my early days in broadband, I would often have to make the connection between broadband and community and economic development in my conversations on infrastructure. That is no longer the case – broadband and development are intricately intertwined.
That was the impetus, for instance, for one of Lit Communities’ engagements. The forward-thinking leaders of Medina County in northeast Ohio worked with local utility companies and other stakeholders to utilize their rescue plan money to expand their middle- and last-mile networks. Now, existing and potential new employers and a growing number of residential neighborhoods have choices around the level of broadband they need, plus a bonus: open application technology that, for instance, lets local healthcare providers offer educational and other services through the local ISP. There’s really no limit to what they can accomplish there. Or at least no limit imposed by inadequate internet service.
Lindsay Miller: The complexity of all of this is daunting, but I take comfort in knowing that none of us must do it alone. And really, you can’t.
There’s a lot of professional help out there. Companies like ours have the expertise to help assess the need and appetite for such services, access the funding, run the numbers, do the work, etc.. Plus, we know how to identify and engage the partners needed to create a successful P3 for a market if that’s the direction they choose to go. However, as one of my colleagues says, “communities are like snowflakes. No two are alike.”
But there are commonalities and, it may sound trite, but I encourage folks to talk to one another. Talk to your peers in neighboring towns or similar communities elsewhere about their experience. Talk to their providers and yours. And engage your anchor institutions early, and thoughtfully in the process!
I’ve been in this space now for 15 years and I’m still constantly learning from my colleagues in the field – many of whom are SHLB members – and finding unique ways to partner to address local challenges. I learn from their best practices and mistakes, and share mine. Share yours. Eliminating our nation’s digital divides may in fact prove to be the most powerful way to bring us all together.