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Portsmouth, Va., to Build City-Owned Fiber Network

The city plans to start building its own high-speed fiber-optic network as soon as July, a project that would boost Portsmouth’s Internet connectivity and – officials hope – lure more companies there.

Daniel Jones, the city’s chief information officer, said officials are taking bid proposals from contractors to build 55 miles of fiber-optic cables. The $9 million project would take five years to finish and is estimated to cost $2.7 million its first year.

“This fits right in with council’s vision of becoming a smart city and being prepared for the next generation of technology,” Mayor John Rowe said.

It’s also part of a planned regional “fiber ring,” a partnership between the five South Hampton Roads cities to connect and expand their broadband networks.

The cables offer several benefits for Portsmouth, Jones said. Municipal facilities like fire stations, parks and libraries would be hooked up to the network and given easier access to faster Internet speeds so employees can work more efficiently. Some of those places could even provide public WiFi or boost service that already exists.

Initially, the new network will support speeds of 200 gigabits per second, though Jones said actual data transfer speeds depend on the equipment used on both ends.

A city-owned broadband network could also save Portsmouth money on its Cox bill, since it wouldn’t have to lease fiber from the carrier anymore. The system would work like a backbone for other Internet providers who may want to use the fiber to link customers to their services, creating more competition and potentially saving those customers money.

“We think that broadband enhances the delivery of products and services to our residents,” said Steven DeBerry, the chief information officer for Norfolk, which has about 30 miles of city-owned fiber network and about 30 more that are owned by Cox. “We find that it facilitates community engagement.”

Tech firms and other high-bandwidth users would benefit in particular because they could use the city’s fiber network to buy service from wholesale Internet providers for a fraction of the cost of accessing service through Cox’s private fiber network.

“What’s great about Portsmouth doing this is that it does add to the efforts that we are working on with a regional fiber ring,” said Norfolk Councilwoman Andria McClellan, who was recently appointed to a committee that is trying to come up with ways to connect municipal buildings, schools and businesses across the five cities.

“This effort will start to prove that we can work regionally.”

The cities have all shared maps showing where hundreds of miles of fiber crisscrosses Hampton Roads. And Virginia Beach charted future routes and points where it can all be connected, linking the five cities at first, as well as the area’s colleges and universities, on the same high-speed network.

Virginia Beach has about 126 linear miles of broadband fibers it finished building last year using existing infrastructure from the city’s traffic light system.

“This thing is going to pay for itself,” said Virginia Beach Councilman Ben Davenport, who is also on the committee. “To incentivize and attract a tech ecosystem, we have to have all these different pieces of the puzzle if we even want to play here. We’re starting to get those pieces in place now.”

©2018 The Virginian-Pilot (Norfolk, Va.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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