Hillsboro, Oregon, has studied the possibility of investing in high-quality fiber connectivity for residents and businesses since 2014. After considering the pros and cons, this northwest city of 105,000 has decided to move ahead, with spring 2019 as a target launch date of its own Internet access service.
Communications Utility and Beyond
In January, the City Council approved establishing a communications utility, creating a communications fund, and taking the necessary steps to develop a dig once policy in the city’s code. Elected officials had not yet decided if the community would pursue a city-wide network, but wanted to create an environment that would offer future options and encourage private sector partners to invest in Hillsboro.
The city already owns fiber optic resources that it uses for municipal facilities, schools, traffic signals, and other purposes. They plan to use that network as a foundation to expand in order to bring better connectivity throughout the community. With a wider network, Hillsboro hopes to adopt public Wi-Fi, better public safety notifications, and applications for smart-meters for utility services as well as real-time parking and traffic updates.
Keeping it Affordable for All Segments
Hillsboro plans to offer gigabit connectivity at around $50 per month but hopes to provide the same symmetrical service to lower-income households at a lower rate. In addition to equitable access for all income levels in Hillsboro, the city wants to ensure that students have the ability to compete.
"For our students, for our businesses, and for our entire community, we are moving forward now to expand the City’s fiber network to include Internet service,” said Hillsboro Mayor Steve Callaway. “We want to ensure affordable, equitable high-speed access to keep Hillsboro competitive with cities around the world.”
The city wants to ensure that network neutrality protections remain in effect in the community for individuals and businesses. Encouraging entrepreneurs and making high-quality access with good customer service affordable for all subscribers are more goals they intend to pursue.
In order to connect homes and businesses, Hillsboro will start with two areas of the city for the first phase that they hope to complete in 2019. South Hillsboro is a new development of around 8,000 homes, which will allow conduit and fiber to be placed during initial construction of the neighborhood. Next, elected officials want to connect premises in the Southwest Hillsboro/Shute Park area, considered one of the areas of the community with the lowest income. City leaders see the need for affordable high-quality Internet access to improve opportunities in the neighborhood.
Hillsboro won’t rush to finish deployment across the city and are planning on allocating $4 million each year for the next six years toward the incremental build. For now, they’re expecting the entire project to take up to ten years to complete.
Those who’ve been following happenings in Hillsboro remember that in 2015 a consultant they hired recommend the city not pursue a community broadband network.
At the time, they suggested that the expense was high — possibly as high as $66 million — and that the city might have to bond for the deployment twice. Uptown Services estimated a 28 percent take rate at that time, but the city now estimates a conservative take rate of about 36 percent and, with the new South Hillsboro development as part of the initial phase, a publicly owned network can start off firm in Hillsboro.
The matter inspired us to write about the role of consultants and what communities should be asking when they hire them for advice. For more on choosing consultants, listen to Christopher and Eric Lampland in episode 246 of the Community Broadband Bit podcast.
Changes Have Happened
The need for broadband access has increased since 2015 and city staff have been researching other communities’ approaches and feel that high-quality connectivity has become an essential service. In order to compete economically and to retain work force talent, city leaders recognize that they can’t sit idly by.
"Hillsboro is the tallest tree in the Silicon Forest and the center of Oregon’s high-tech cluster. With an affordable high-speed network, Hillsboro’s homegrown talent — our students and entrepreneurs — will be better positioned to lead the world in innovating for the future. Hillsboro will continue to attract and retain talent and be a hub for innovation."
At the May 15th City Council Work Session, Councilor Anthony Martin also considered the role the city may play in better connectivity throughout the region:
“Being thoughtful and strategic is not only good governance, it’s the Hillsboro way. Our neighbors will look forward to the day when our community’s fiber network expands and the City can provide the exceptional customer service that Hillsboro residents expect.”
This article originally ran on muninetworks.org.