Giving Rural Broadband Companies the Technology They Need to Gear Up for Growth
Understand the strategic technology challenges that Rural Broadband organizations face and how a unified cloud ERP platform can help them scale up quickly to meet demand.
The Federal government’s investment in broadband received a hefty bump with the recent passage of the bipartisan Infrastructure Law, which earmarks $65 billion over 10 years to expand access. That’s driving growth for small-to-midsize rural broadband companies, which are finding opportunities to fill gaps left by larger providers.
The federal government has funded US broadband expansion since Congress passed the Telecommunications Act of 1996 — the FCC introduced the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF) for unserved rural areas in 2019, and the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 allocated $7.2 billion towards broadband initiatives for low-income and rural communities. So, these rural providers have a history of moving the needle — in this case, the one measuring megabits per second. But the global pandemic shined a light on disparities that remain in rural broadband. When schools moved to remote learning and more people began working from home, families needed strong, reliable internet connections that they didn’t always have.
This intensified political and market pressure to make high-speed connections more widely available. Now, funding is flowing into rural broadband companies that operate their own networks and provide wired or fiber broadband to customers that would otherwise be relegated to using dial-up connections.
As these smaller providers expand, they face challenges — and sometimes become key merger and acquisition (M&A) and investment targets.
This white paper highlights the strategic technology challenges that these growing organizations face and discusses how a unified cloud enterprise resource planning (ERP) platform, supported by an implementation partner with deep expertise in the broadband sector, helps these organizations scale up quickly to meet demand.
Rural Broadband Companies Face Growing Pains
As they gear up to take on more work and leverage federal funding, rural broadband providers are doing complete upgrades, massively transforming their processes and technology stacks. Many times, the core of the company is a monolithic billing system meant to serve almost all needs of the telecom organization, from provisioning to accounting — and often built on dated, legacy technology. These systems are often closed, without even rudimentary integration capabilities, and are provided by vendors that lack incentive to keep up with the changing needs of broadband providers, much less innovate.
“There’s a lot of M&A activity going on as the government has increased funding availability for rural broadband,” said Aaron LeBato, CEO at C Level Analytics, a NetSuite Solution Provider that works with these providers.
This activity began picking up about six years ago, when the government’s goal of providing reliable broadband in remote areas began to kick into gear. The US House of Representatives recently passed the $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill, which includes $65 billion for broadband deployment, access, and affordability. Grants are being made available to states to fund broadband deployment and adoption in underserved areas, $2.75 billion is being allocated to the Digital Equity Program, and various funding efforts are now underway.
“Because the government is subsidizing these efforts, even a very small provider may be eligible for some major funding,” LeBato said. “When that happens, these companies have to be able to quickly expand their infrastructure, services, and customer bases. They basically have to become ‘big companies’ almost overnight.”
And there’s a lot more to come.
According to the FCC’s latest broadband deployment report, 83% of internet customers in rural areas had access to broadband at speeds of 25 megabits per second for download and 3 Mbps for upload, the minimum the FCC considers broadband, compared with 99% of those in urban areas. The government recognizes this gap and is working to fill it.
As it allocates more funding to improving those rural numbers, the federal government is also spurring growth in an industry that was once primarily focused on more populated regions of the United States.
Whether they’re adding more infrastructure, serving new customers, or preparing their organizations for a potential sale, growing broadband providers need robust technology to run their operations. With NetSuite as a foundation, C Level Analytics provides the systems these companies need to not only meet demand, but to expand their operations in a profitable, efficient manner.
Gearing Up to Take on More
Many rural broadband providers struggle with an antiquated billing and operations support system, known as a BSS/OSS. These systems generate customer bills, provision services, and may offer outside plant/construction capabilities. The problem is, they’re built with the “old telco” organization in mind and lack flexibility. They’re difficult or impossible to integrate with newer business software, leaving many processes stuck in spreadsheets and staff struggling with workarounds.
Most legacy BSS/OSS’s simply weren’t built to manage accounting, finance, or other back-office operations effectively. As a result, many rural broadband companies come to C Level Analytics looking to add NetSuite as either a complement to their existing billing systems or as a component that integrates with a more modern BSS/OSS system.
“These companies are dramatically growing their service areas, so having to consolidate different legal entities is a major process,” said LeBato. “These problems will only become more and more unsustainable as rural broadband companies grow.”
A Unified Solution for All Activities
As Uncle Sam works to extend broadband access to more rural users, the companies that establish and administer that access continue to proliferate. The days of monolithic BSS/OSS systems doing everything in a mediocre fashion are over.
“Many broadband companies have not upgraded systems in a long time,” said LeBato. “That’s where we step in to help by putting systems in place that help propel these organizations forward as they scale and grow.”
C Level Analytics starts by introducing NetSuite’s best-in-class financial system for managing finances, projects, payroll, and other activities that were previously handled using disparate systems, manual processes, and/or spreadsheets.
Knowing that many of its broadband customers have had their legacy systems in place for decades — often dating back to when they were telephone service providers — C Level Analytics offers a range of integrations between NetSuite and outside applications.
“Finding an ERP that’s open and able to integrate easily with other systems is a huge consideration,” LeBato said.
But it goes beyond financials. NetSuite also fulfills these companies’ need for improved inventory management as they race to get more fiber in the ground, and as their procurement, and material management needs increase to meet customer demands. C Level Analytics has implemented the RF-SMART inventory management application for NetSuite, which vastly improves the ability to manage and track inventory in warehouses and stockrooms.
Broadband organizations often also complain about the lack of intercompany transaction capabilities. These providers are usually complicated legal entity structures that have been built up over time and are based on the remains of older telephone companies that have since been acquired and/or dissolved. As they move away from telephone services and over to broadband, these entities need a unified ERP to break the constraints of their existing solutions.
According to LeBato, growing rural broadband companies also like how NetSuite can be customized to their needs, with very little added expense.
“We haven't really run into too many situations where we can’t meet a broadband-specific requirement using NetSuite’s native workflows, customizations, and functionality,” said LeBato, who adds that this flexibility is important to an industry that generally feels “locked in” with their current systems. “A lot of them now want out, and that’s why NetSuite’s integrations are such a big deal.”
The Need for Speed
Following the SuiteSuccess implementation framework, C Level Analytics can usually get a broadband company up and running on NetSuite within 90 days, depending on the individual organization’s complexities, needs, and requirements. The NetSuite partner has successfully completed implementations and data conversions for the companies’ existing, industry-built billing systems, which is “where all of the activity is” for the typical broadband organization, according to LeBato.
Once in place, NetSuite gives rural broadband companies robust intercompany accounting, inventory management, internal capital project tracking, and the strength of the Oracle Cloud Infrastructure. A cloud-first ERP known for its high levels of innovation, NetSuite also offers cost-effective customizations and can easily be integrated with broadband BSS/OSS (billing) systems. This is important because older billing systems—and even some modern ones—are still poor at integration. There are a select few that are decent, however, and LeBato said C-Level Analytics partners with those providers.
NetSuite also features fast implementation times, helps broadband companies prepare for potential acquisitions, and offers “far superior ERP functionality than anything a BSS/OSS system would provide,” LeBato added.
With years of experience helping broadband companies connect their existing billing systems with NetSuite, C Level Analytics has a long list of satisfied rural broadband customers that rely on the ERP for all their business needs. The NetSuite Partner also provides high levels of support.
“These rural companies are growing fast and don’t have the internal capabilities that they need for speed,” said LeBato. “As they change out their existing systems, we help them manage the programs, including ERP, business intelligence, integrations, and billing systems.”
About C Level Analytics
A boutique consulting firm that only hires top consulting and technical talent, C Level is the ONLY NetSuite partner with a narrow focus on broadband. We have been in the industry for seven years and know what broadband organizations need to become stronger and ready to grow. If you are a broadband organization, you won't find a better partner to take you where you need to go.