Hillsboro, Oregon, has decided that fast, reliable, and affordable Internet access is a top priority. As they continue to fine-tune their fiber optic network plans, community leaders recently announced pricing and speed tiers for HiLight, expected to launch in 2020.
This summer, the Hillsboro City Council confirmed proposed pricing to reflect the community's commitment to bringing high-quality Internet access to each premise; HiLight will offer symmetrical gigabit Internet access for $55 per month to residents. According to the Oregonian, the rate is about half what Comcast charges. HiLight will also provide a 4 gigabit option for $300 per month, which is comparable to Comcast’s price for 2 gigabit service.
Subscribers will also have the option to sign-up for VoIP services for $20 per month, but the utility will not offer video.
Low-income households will be able to subscribe to gigabit service for $10 per month, but the community is still working out details for eligibility. Comcast’s plan for similarly situated folks allows Internet access at 15 Megabits per second (Mbps) download while providing slower upload speeds.
Like many other publicly owned networks, Hillsboro plans to offer symmetrical service to allow subscribers to take full advantage of fiber optic connections. With the ability to send as well as receive data-intensive files, subscribers are more likely to work from home, complete distance learning educational programs, engage in telehealth apps, and partake in innovative technologies.
The city plans to take an incremental approach and dedicate about 10 years toward completion of citywide deployment while avoiding debt. Hillsboro has decided to allocate around $4 million each year for the next 7 years toward the build. City financial experts estimate the network will begin generating revenue in 11 years and will pay for itself in 17 years.
Construction is already in progress in the Sourh Hillsboro neighborhood, a new area of town where approximately 8,000 new homes are being built, allowing crews to install conduit and fiber simlutaneously. Next they plan to move to the Schute Park area, an area of town where a high percentage of residents aren't able to afford Internet access from the incumbent.
The second phase will also include premises in the city’s Historic Downtown and the Health and Education District. Schools in Hillsboro will be contributing toward the infrastructure investment in order to tap into cost savings and improve connectivity for students. The school district estimates they will reduce communications costs by as much as $5 million over the next 10 years, allowing them to direct the funding toward other important uses.
About 30 of 60 required miles for the network backbone are already installed and, while Hillsboro was hoping to have the schools on the network by the start of school, they pushed back that goal. Rather than aerial deployment for the school network portion of the infrastructure, engineers decided underground plant would be wiser, even though it meant a delay.
Growing Interest, Adapting Perspectives
When Hillsboro commissioned a feasibility study back in 2015, consultants recommended they stay away from the publicly owned option, estimating a much higher price tag and much lower interest from the community. Since then, however, public opinion around the investment has grown. Local leaders in Hillsboro have armed themselves with better information and a vision for their proposed community network.
After looking deeper into the options themselves, and faced with the prospect of continuing to face limited and expensive services from Comcast, the city decided it was in their own best interest to take action, rather than sit idle.
In May 2018, the city announced that pursuing a fiber optic network was the best option for every sector of the commuity:
“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."
Image of Hillsboro's Streets of Tanasbourne fountain night, violet by M.O. Stevens [CC BY-SA 3.0]