October 12, 2020 — How should one go about building a gigabit city? Act quickly, be strategic and work in partnership with the private sector.
That was the conclusion of panelists speaking about a fiber internet build in Springfield, Missouri, included as part of the Broadband Communities Virtual Summit in September.
The webinar session detailed the benefits of a data-driven, digital approach to fiber builds six months into the project. In it, panelists representing the public and private sectors said that in addition to being innovative and strategic in their approach to building fiber infrastructure, city leaders were early.
In 1991, Springfield established a city-led telecommunications strategy, empowering the municipality’s utility department to offer telecommunications services to county buildings, city buildings, and school districts.
This telecommunications strategic plan clearly stated that the city should sell excess fiber capacity wherever feasible.
Since then, the town has expanded its fiber infrastructure services. It offered gigabit fiber service in 2007 and expanded to 10 gigabit per second (Gbps) upload and download service in 2010. As of 2015, the city had built close to 600 miles of fiber throughout Springfield.
Jeff Bertholdi, director of SpringNet, said that in 2016, changes in conversations around broadband included talk at the Federal Communications Commission and Congress about the economic benefits fiber-to-the-home infrastructure offers.
Researching public-private partnerships, including the ‘utility lease’ model
The city began to research the ‘utility lease’ model, after Huntsville, Alabama, adopted that approach with Google Fiber. That made Springfield think harder about the future of their project. “The city utility felt it was time to review its priorities a bit,” said Bertholdi.
SpringNet, the municipally-owned utility, hired the Broadband Group consulting firm to expand their fiber project to Springfield residents. The companies broke ground on the FTTH project in 2020.
Today, Springfield fiber is regarded as a utility. Broadband is “just another service our utility provides alongside electric, water, gas, and transit,” said Bertholdi.
Officials for SpringNet said that building infrastructure is their strong suit. It is building the fiber-to-the-premise network. Meanwhile, the Broadband Group and Biarri Networks, Render Networks, and BHC Rhodes manage the rest of what the project entails.
All units involved cooperate and converse. That was key to getting the project off the ground, said Render Networks CEO Sam Pratt.
The businesses are aiming to continue Springfield’s theme of innovation, leasing throughout, modeling and constructing the network.
According to Pratt, geospatial technology and digital tablets are helping track the progress of the construction project, to ensure timeliness.
“Six months into the project, we’ve transitioned past the training phase, and the project is on schedule,” said Pratt. The businesses have plans to kick off a large marketing campaign to the public in a month or two, and will ultimately bring gigabit services to all of Springfield residents and businesses in the next two years.
The session was moderated by Heather Gold, CEO of HBG Strategies.
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