City Utilities (CU) in Springfield, Missouri, recently announced that over the next four years, they will expand the community’s fiber optic network. CenturyLink will lease dark fiber on the Springfield infrastructure in order to offer Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) Internet access to residents and businesses in Springfield and in areas beyond the city. In addition to the great news about this sizeable expansion, experts feel optimistic to see a national ISP working with a pioneering municipal network.
Working with CenturyLink First, Then Others
CU will spend around $120 million to add more than 1,000 fiber miles to their existing 700-mile fiber infrastructure. SpringNet has provided connectivity to local businesses since the late 1990s and has helped spur economic development in Springfield.
CenturyLink, as the first Internet access provider to lease dark fiber on the publicly owned network, and Springfield expect to begin connecting residents and businesses by the spring of 2020. According to CU General Manager Scott Miller, the 15-year arrangement with CenturyLink will fund much of the expansion and rates will not increase for current CU customers.
Miller estimates that CU will complete the expansion within three years. Because the CenturyLink agreement is not exclusive, CU hopes to lease excess capacity to other Internet access companies or businesses. In addition to encouraging options for Springfield, CU wants to deploy more fiber throughout the community to facilitate 5G technology, which requires ample fiber to support high numbers of small cell sites.
Officials from CenturyLink say that they will not impose data caps on Springfield subscribers and that the company won’t increase rates after an introductory period. Currently, CenturyLink estimates that symmetrical gigabit Internet access will be set at $65 per month for 12 months. There are some requirements for subscribers, however, to obtain that rate. Check out the details here.
How Did Springfield Get Here?
CU began connecting their own facilities, including electric substations and water treatment plants — an approach other municipalities have adopted to improve services and cut costs. By the early 1990s, CU had connected many public facilities, such as fire stations and city offices. They continued to add to the infrastructure and by the late 1990s, the fiber network traveled all through the city.
After losing a court case and the right to offer telephone or video in Missouri, SpringNet discovered that they could still offer Internet access to businesses. CU closed a gap in the city that incumbents ignored — they offered fast, affordable, reliable connectivity to local commercial subscribers.
For a time, the utility owned a data center and colocation facility. After operating the facility successfully for twelve years, CU sold it to Bluebird Networks. At the time, they knew they wanted to expand and focus on fiber. SpringNet now offers 40 Gigabit per second (Gbps) service and plans to move toward 100 Gbps options.
“Access to reliable high-speed broadband services drives economic development and is essential to every community,” said Dean Thompson, City Utilities Associate General Manager for Economic Development and SpringNet.
“Working with private industry to make the best use of public infrastructure minimizes work in the rights-of-way and helps to ensure all areas of our community have access to affordable broadband choices.”
A New Way Forward?
Large Internet access companies have typically refused to collaborate with municipalities to deliver services to residents and businesses. Smaller ISPs, however, don’t seem to mind offering services via publicly owned infrastructure, recognizing that local governments that build and manage fiber can relieve them of a significant task. As CenturyLink works with CU in Springfield, perhaps other national ISPs will see the advantages of cooperating with municipalities instead of fighting them.
In 2012, we spoke with Todd Murren about how SpringNet had helped the city attract employers:
Image of the Park Central Square Fountain in Springfield, from Joelfun at English Wikipedia via Wikimedia Commons.