I was the only French, together with Roland Montagne of IDATE, to speak at the conference, which was pretty much held by the "Dutch Connection" ! A piece of evidence that the Open Neutral Access approach is still not a standard thinking here in France...
Actually, I was supposed to be part of two panels : the one on Muni Fiber, and the one on new cabling techniques. I must admit : due to my hectic agenda over the last few weeks and my current focus on Rural Broadband, I totally forgot the second point and did only prepare the first. I realized my mistake... the morning before the panels, scheduled in late afternoon !
By chance, Hassan Clausen, Managing Director of HanseCom and organizer of the event understood pretty well the situation, and let me withdraw from the New Cabling stuff, which gave him the opportunity to get 3 speakers at each panel. I'm glad my mistake finally allowed Uffe Mogensen, CEO of GM Plast, to deliver a fantastic presentation on micro-trenching techniques.
So, as planned, I did present the Bottom-Up approach for deploying Fiber in Rural areas. To start with, I explained why the usual way of deploying municipal Fiber-To-The-Home networks in France is never satisfying for the citizens - see Pau Broadband Country or Gonfreville-l'Orcher : as the people were not involved in the project at the very beginning, they are to reject it quickly as soon as something goes wrong.
That's where the "Top-Down" strategy fails. Enters the "Bottom-Up" approach : help the people solve a real problem in their daily life - what we B2B marketeers call "the customer' s pain", and go a step beyond by offering them something else on top of the solution used to fix this problem. Work with them to define the solution, work with them to test and implement it. Doing so, you will get the citizens adopt the solution, as they are part of its design' process.
The first question is: is there an Open Neutral Access Fiber nearby ? If the answer is "No", then... well, look for alternatives (which are not part of this discussion, sorry !). If the answer is "Yes", then the next question is: can Fiber help solving the problem ?. If the answer is "No", bad luck for me (and you, BTW ;-). If the answer is "Yes", then let's work it out with the customer, er., the Citizens.
That's the Bottom-Up approach for deploying FTTH Fiber-To-The-Home, starting by the Church. Why the church ? Simply because in each and every small city or village out there, there's a church - or a synagog, or a mosque, or a temple, whatever religious construction that is (or was...) the heart of your town, with active social life around, e.g. a pub, a grocery store, a book store... The idea is that simple : get the Fiber to the very heart of your village, and get the people build a community around it. They will adopt the project, because they will be part of it, playing an active role.
Actually, that's nothing new. Think of the Web 2.0 stuff: how did all those famous startups which we all know today, the Facebooks, the Twitters, the YouTubes, proceed at the beginning ? Got an idea, test it among a bunch of buddies, then once the idea went polished enough, extend the testing phase to a larger audience, who will help fixing the bugs and adding new features, then launch the product publicly. And still keep their users onboard by creating a true community spirit. There's no difference with what Seth Godin, the iconic Marketing guru of the Blogosphere, calls the Tribe.
In the business, how do you get customers to use your product ? You do evangelize them, right ? Here, with Municipal Fiber-To-The-Home networks, all we need to do is the same. Hence the Church.
Let me evangelize you. Here is the presentation, available for download on Slideshare. I give three examples of actual projects based on this bottom-up approach.
Disclaimer : I'm currently working as a consultant for two of those municipalities: Montmirail and La Grande Paroisse. The two projects are ongoing, both in the preliminary phase of network design and definition of the first targets (low-investments, boot-strapping...). The project concerning Val d'Isere has not been approved yet - we just started the discussions a couple of weeks ago.Guy Jarvis is doing in the UK with his FibreStream organization, or Frans-Anton Vermast of i-NEC in the Netherlands and elsewhere (interview by Costas Troulos of Broadband Prime here). Although this kind of spirit is not that common here in France, I'm convinced that involving the people right from the beginning of a project as big as bringing fiber to their home is the only way to go when public money (means your taxes and mine) is at stake. Frans Anton has found a nice tweak to the FTTH acronym in the Municipalities environment : FFTH, Fiber FROM The Home...
Amen, and Carpe Diem ;-)