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Fresno wants to build citywide high-speed internet system

Jazmine Davis, 10, left, and her sister, Terrianna Boone, 8, watch as their mother signed up for Google Fiber service in February 2016. Kansas City, Kansas, won the Google internet challenge, beating out 1,100 other cities, including Fresno.
Jazmine Davis, 10, left, and her sister, Terrianna Boone, 8, watch as their mother signed up for Google Fiber service in February 2016. Kansas City, Kansas, won the Google internet challenge, beating out 1,100 other cities, including Fresno. deulitt@kcstar.com

Six years ago, Fresno went gaga competing for Google Fiber, a pilot program to build an ultra-high-speed fiber optic network in one major U.S. city. Fresno lost the competition but not the dream.

City officials are exploring plans to build Fresno’s own high-speed network and issued a request Friday to telecommunications companies seeking a partner in developing at least 1 gigabit-per-second broadband for residents and 10 to 100 times faster for businesses.

“The city recognizes the importance of ‘future proofing’ our community with affordable, ultra-high-speed tech infrastructure to support our entrepreneurs and residents,” Mayor Ashley Swearengin said in the bid announcement.

“The ability to partner with major providers and ensure the delivery of next-generation broadband access will not only make communication more convenient for everyone, it will make our city stronger.”

Fresno is looking for “one or more motivated, high-caliber partners  to make affordable, ubiquitous gigabit-class broadband services and capabilities available throughout the city.”

The bid opportunity adds that Fresno plans to make available “its extensive fiber network and street light poles, as well as other assets that may help build a network that would serve the community.”

Bryon Horn, the city’s chief information officer, said much of northeast, northwest and southeast Fresno already has fiber optic cables under the streets to allow for traffic signal synchronization, but there is a gap in southwest Fresno. “We don’t know who’s going to respond, but we’re hoping to find someone to help us build out” a fiber network to fill in those holes.

The mayor’s idea is for (vendors) to build us a citywide wireless network to bring in higher speeds at lower cost.

Bryon Horn, Fresno’s chief information officer

He added that one model could include the installation of wireless antennas atop city-owned streetlights to beam wireless broadband at a speed of 1 gigabit per second to and from homes in neighborhoods. From those antennas, signals would be routed to a hard-wired fiber network that would operate at between 10 and 100 gigabits per second.

“The mayor’s idea is for (vendors) to build us a citywide wireless network to bring in higher speeds at lower cost,” Horn said.

While the cost for customers would depend on what kind of deal the city can strike with vendors as well as the vendors’ business models, Horn said the city would ideally envision high-speed wireless internet becoming available for low-income residents at rates comparable to those charged by Comcast for its Internet Essentials service, a 10 megabit-per-second service at about $10 per month.

But in addition to faster internet for residents, a fleshed-out fiber and wireless network would bolster the city’s ability to serve technology-oriented businesses that expect sufficient bandwidth and high speeds for their services and their workers, Horn said. It also would improve connectivity for students and schools, as well as government agencies and nonprofit organizations.

Companies have until Nov. 14 to submit a letter of interest and until Nov. 30 to provide a full statement of qualifications to the city.

How fast is fast?

Fresno is looking for telecommunications partners in hopes of developing an ultra-fast broadband internet program for the city with speeds of at least 10 to 100 gigabits per second (gbps) for businesses and at least 1 gbps for residents. At 1 gbps, it would likely take about seven seconds to download the epic 1997 movie “Titanic,” which has a running time of 3 hours and 14 minutes. Here is how that same download compares with other types of residential internet connections:

▪ Cable broadband, up to 250 megabits per second (mbps): Under one minute.

▪ Phone company broadband, 25 mbps: About six minutes.

▪ DSL (digital subscriber line), up to 7 mbps: about 19 minutes.

▪ Dial-up (up to 0.056 mbps or 56 kilobits per second): about 37 hours.

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