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Edison, New Jersey Nabs $2 Million For City-Owned Fiber Network
Edison, New Jersey is proceeding with the construction of an affordable, gigabit-capable fiber network after receiving $2 million cash infusion from state leaders. The resulting network will be built on the back of decades’ worth of local frustration with the high prices, spotty availability, and slow broadband speeds provided by regional monopolies.
The city spent $36,750 on a feasibility study in 2022 to determine the plausibility of building a citywide fiber network. The resulting study by Matrix Design Group found that 87 percent of Edison locals would likely switch to a city-owned and operated fiber network if the option existed.
Edison’s network is in the early stages of planning, and city leaders are only just starting to field competing bids from consulting vendors who’ll then draft a more comprehensive business plan.
In the interim, the city has received $2 million as part of the New Jersey fiscal year 2024 budget to help get the proposal off the ground.
"Access to the Internet is no longer a luxury, it’s a necessity,” State Senator Patrick Diegnan, Assemblyman Robert Karabinchak and Assemblyman Sterley Stanley said of the funding. “We commend Mayor Sam Joshi for making high-speed municipal broadband a priority for Edison."
In a post last year made to social media, Joshi detailed the city’s longstanding frustration with regional telecom monopoly Optimum, owned by French telecom giant Altice.
“Altice and Optimum is a terrible service provider that provides absolutely pathetic service,” he said. “Optimum does NOT have an exclusive contract with Edison. Other Internet providers could come to our township, but they choose not to for the purpose of maintaining their respective monopolies.”
The resulting lack of competition, as it does in so many U.S. markets, routinely results in high prices, slow speeds, patchy availability, and customer service that’s statistically ranked among the worst of any industry in America.
“The best way to address our internet crisis is to create our own municipal broadband, where the Township would own the fiber cables and lease it to a third party to administer service,” Joshi concluded. “Municipal Broadband–Edison ownership of the fiber optic infrastructure–would allow us to negotiate the terms, pricing, speeds and conditions to users.”
As the city finalizes its plan, Comcast has announced it will be expanding its reach into Edison by deploying fiber to select parts of the city after the city council adopted an ordinance authorizing a rights of way agreement between Comcast and Edison for cable TV and broadband access.
"I promised to end Optimum’s monopoly for our families, and after numerous discussions with Comcast executives, it’s exciting to know that Edison’s future will now include multiple options and residents will have the freedom to fairly choose the right service provider for their families," Joshi told Patch.
Granted there’s nothing requiring Comcast to deploy fiber evenly across the city, and duopolies created by two regional giants often don’t drive down costs in the same way more robust competition (like that provided by an open access fiber network) can.
Outside of a planned middle mile network in Cumberland County, municipal broadband networks in New Jersey are largely nonexistent, and Edison’s effort–should it proceed–would be the first such city-owned and operated fiber deployment in the state. New Jersey is poised to receive $263 million in BEAD grant funds to help fund lagging broadband deployment.
Inline image of Street Lab Uni Project in Edison, NJ courtesy of Street Lab, Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International (CC BY-NC 4.0)