Fairlawn, Ohio Pursuing Design Plan for Muni Broadband Utility

Fairlawn, Ohio this fall took a “huge step forward” toward launching its own high-speed municipal broadband utility.

The City Council recently approved hiring a consultant to design and establish the business model for building “FairlawnGig,” a municipal broadband network. At completion, the city envisions the new utility will provide the community with comprehensive Wi-Fi connectivity and Fiber-To-The-Home (FTTH) service for businesses and residents.  

Faster Internet speeds  

“It will be a fiber network that will give one gig (i.e. gigabit per second or Gbps) of service, which is 1,000 times what people have right now,” City Deputy Service Director Ernie Staten said in an Akron.com news report. He added:

That’s a huge step forward for the City of Fairlawn. The future of TV, phone and Internet is to stream them all through the Internet. To do that with the current systems that we have is very difficult, but one gig of service would allow residents to stream as many videos as they want and to work from home as well as they possibly can.

In announcing plans for the project, earlier this year, the city said its goal is to:

...[O]ffer competitive fixed residential and business broadband services with speeds of 30 Mbps up and 30 Mbps down, and unique mobile Wi-Fi services with high-speed secure connections of 20 Mbps to smartphones and tablets throughout Fairlawn.

Besides the city of Fairlawn, a community of about 7,500 residents, the new municipal broadband utility would also include the Akron-Fairlawn-Bath Joint Economic Development District. The geographic area includes the communities of Akron and Bath in the new broadband utility service area. In Ohio, joint economic development districts are a vehicle to encourage communities to partner on infrastructure improvements, such as water and sewer service, without annexation. 

When the Fairlawn fiber network is completed, services up to 1 Gbps will be possible.

Public-private partnership planned  

Although many details of the project are still a few months off, the City anticipates forging a public-private partnership whereby it would own the fiber network but have it built and operated by someone else, Staten told us. The broadband utility would be funded through private financing and revenues from operations.

“Financing the construction of the network with private money will allow us to build the network much more quickly than we could on our own,” Fairlawn’s Mayor William Roth, a key project supporter, said in a news release earlier this year.

Staten told us, “The EDC (engineer design contract) should be complete by the end of the year with construction following close behind with the City Council’s blessing.” 

While building the high-speed, fiber-optic broadband network could take up to five years, the utility would also include carrier grade Wi-Fi service which could come online as early as 2016, city officials said in a news release earlier this year. The FTTH network will be open to multiple service providers in an open access arrangement.

Assuming no unforeseen wrinkles in the design and engineering phase, Fairlawn officials expect construction of the fiber-optic broadband network to begin next year. Roth said in the Jan. 12 news release:

Working with private partners who are experts in telecommunications will assure that FairlawnGig is a state­ of­ the ­art network that is built on time and on budget. The city of Fairlawn plans to provide right­-of-way access and other real estate assets to expedite the construction process. 

Improve the community with a “utility of the future”

City officials have said that building the broadband utility will be a boon to the community and the local business community. From the Jan. 12 press release:

Enhanced broadband services and fiber optic availability will strengthen and improve the delivery of police, fire and other vital municipal services and provide the city with access to cutting edge informational technology.

...

To be competitive in a global economy and attract new businesses and young professionals to our city, Internet access at a gigabit per second is imperative.