Jan 12 2016

Newark, Del., to Study Municipal Broadband Options

The city has hired a consultant to explore its infrastructure and whether it could offer competitively priced Internet service.

The city government of Newark, Del., is exploring whether it can provide high-speed broadband service to its residents at prices that would compete with commercial Internet service providers.

In late December 2015, city officials hired CTC Technology and Energy, a Maryland-based technology engineering firm, to study the city’s communications infrastructure, The News Journal reported. The $69,000 study, which should be completed during the spring, is expected to provide an estimate of how much it would cost the city to offer municipal broadband service.

Can a Network Be Built?

According to The News Journal, the study will map out where fiber-optic cables are located throughout the municipality. The study will also explore Newark’s options for using a fiber-optic network to deliver broadband, including leasing bandwidth on cables from private companies or laying new fiber.

Newark’s potential municipal broadband network could provide service to residents, major companies in the city, city buildings and properties and University of Delaware locations.

The News Journal reported that Josh Brechbuehl, Newark’s IT manager, has said the city’s use of a Wi-Fi mesh network to send data from smart water and electric meters spurred the discussion about a potential municipal broadband network.

One idea CTC Technology and Energy will delve into is whether the city would be able to connect the mesh network to fiber-optic cables to provide public Wi-Fi. Brechbuehl told the city council in December that another idea is for residents to connect to a fiber-optic network via high-speed wireless technology.

"We would not have to connect directly to the home," Brechbuehl said. “We would simply send a very fast wireless signal from the utility pole to the home."

Other Cities Push for Greater Broadband Access

Municipal broadband is not a new concept, though it has gone through waves of popularity and has had varying levels of success. Around 450 governments across the country provide Internet service, Christopher Mitchell, director of community broadband networks for the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, told The News Journal.

According to Mitchell, whose organization is a Washington, D.C., nonprofit that advises communities on planning, some municipal broadband systems are offering 1-gigabit-per-second speeds for a monthly fee of about $75.

As StateTech recently reported, a group of experts, including city officials and those who work for policy advocacy organizations, noted at a forum in Washington, D.C., last month that cities face numerous challenges in deploying broadband, including getting the necessary infrastructure in place.

For example, Ted Smith, chief innovation officer for the Louisville Metro Government, in Kentucky, said the city is “very much focused on being a fiber-friendly community.” Although he said that “a lot of people sort of roll their eyes when you say ‘fiber-friendly,’” experience has taught him that telecommunications companies will work only with cities that reduce regulatory barriers to infrastructure investment.

Vladimir Arndt/ThinkStock

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