Mapping Your Assets

Top Takeaways

  • Vertical assets – municipally-owned water tanks, tall buildings, radio towers and other features – are especially useful when considering fixed wireless broadband.
  • In order to get the most out of your plan, it is critical to understand what a vertical asset is and how it plays a role in your plan.
  • Potential assets may vary for a variety of reasons. When identifying the best opportunities, looking for locations that have visibility to potential broadband customers or users is the key.

A community should never come empty-handed to an initiative to expand broadband services. For example, a community can attract potential broadband internet providers with a professional, detailed map showing hundreds of potential customers. Further, the community can offer many ways to lower providers’ costs of broadband deployment, including several formal and informal policies, matching or sharing costs and free or low-cost access to well-mapped architectural and geographic assets.

Literally mapping out community infrastructure and physical assets, while also offering favorable public policy change, can present powerful incentives to broadband internet providers. For example, zoning, tower and other ordinances can be reviewed, and roadblocks to deployment can be minimized or removed. The technical assistance team can help with specifics on changes that have helped impact deployment.

Broadband’s Economic Reality

Consider that broadband internet providers must always maintain an economic calculus balancing costs with projected revenues. Building a fiber-optic network or upgrading existing networks is expensive. Sparsely populated or economically distressed areas are not attractive to broadband internet providers because they cannot be certain they will find enough demand, customers and revenue. Across the country, telecommunications companies have been willing to invest in infrastructure, burying untold miles of fiber-optic cables underground and, when geographically necessary, stringing many more miles of cable between utility poles.

However, they are investing in infrastructure because they have a near guarantee of major revenue from selling their services. Therefore, the county or community that is sparsely populated or economically challenged has the additional task of making the initial investments of the provider more appealing.

A strong and detailed inventory of assets enables the county to offer providers several ways to make broadband deployment less expensive and more financially attractive. (A county GIS office is likely able to help here.) For example:

  • Town- or county-owned water towers, silos, towers and tall buildings can be used by providers at low- or no-cost leases for mobile or fixed wireless broadband internet deployment.
  • Rights of way can be made available for easier and less expensive access to burying or stringing fiber optic cable.
  • Capital projects, either current or future, such as road construction or installing or upgrading water pipes or other infrastructure, can be used as an opportunity to lay new fiber optic conduit for future activation.
  • Other community-owned infrastructure, such as utility poles, can be used at reduced costs or even free of charge by telecommunications companies to expand broadband networks.
  • Community-owned land can be leased, often at reduced costs, to telecommunications companies to expand broadband networks.
  • Community-owned utilities have assets, including customer databases and office infrastructure, that can be shared with broadband providers.
  • Franchise agreements and contracts that are near expiration provide opportunities for new and better broadband service.

Remember too that the community has many “soft” assets: educated, committed people on staff and in the community, civic groups, nonprofits, businesses and other organizations:

  • Existing relationships with vendors may be used to attract new broadband providers and ease their entry into the community by expanding vendor services to the providers.
  • Civic and volunteer organizations can provide volunteer and advocacy assistance.
  • Schools and institutions of higher education can provide expertise, student labor and other benefits.

Mapping Resources

Many counties have GIS mapping resources available. County staff members may be able to create maps that display demand and available assets and that demonstrate overlaps and connections between areas with both available assets and potential customers.

Example Map

This is an example map from Macon County that shows existing wireless towers and broadband internet areas. It includes features and landmarks to better identify different areas on the map.

Antenna Search is a free resource with detailed information on over 1.9 million towers and antennas across the United States. Information includes Google Maps locations, ownership details, contact information and information on existing or future towers.