Lancaster PA Revives Public Private Partnership Plans With Shentel’s Glo Fiber

Lancaster Pa city seal

Lancaster, Pennsylvania has revitalized the city’s long percolating plan for a municipal broadband network, this time via a public-private partnership (PPP) with Shenandoah Telecommunications Company (Shentel). The city’s quest for more affordable, reliable broadband is a quest that’s taken the better part of a decade to finally come to fruition.

Lancaster city officials recently announced that they’d selected Shentel with an eye on ensuring uniform broadband availability to the city of 57,000.

“In 2022, the City issued an RFP for a partner to achieve stated goals, which received five responses, and led to the selection of Shentel,” the city said. “The contract will result in Shentel installing fiber at its sole cost to provide service to 100% of the city’s residents. Shentel plans to commence design and construction immediately upon execution of the final agreement.”

According to Lancaster officials, the city hired CTC Technology & Energy Engineering & Business Consulting to evaluate the city’s needs. The determination to proceed with a PPP with Shental was driven, in part, by the historic broadband grant opportunities being created thanks to the 2021 Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA), and the American Rescue Plan Act, the latter of which provided $39.5 million to the city.

Downtown Lancaster PA

Shentel will lease, maintain, and operate existing city-owned fiber, install additional fiber, and ensure the funding design, installation, and maintenance necessary to ensure universal fiber. While city officials are still fleshing out the full scope of the project, a finalized agreement is expected to give Shentel three years to deliver broadband to every city resident (around 35,000 homes and businesses).

Shentel did not respond to an ILSR request for comment on the full cost of the deployment or whether they will pursue any of the incoming $1.16 billion in BEAD funds the state will receive thanks to the infrastructure law.

PPPs can reduce the up front cost for cities’ when it comes to expanding broadband access, but can come with downsides should the city not control the pricing, policies, and trajectory of the finished network. That said, Pennsylvania is one of 17 states with federal restrictions, lobbied for by telecom monopolies, greatly restricting municipal broadband deployments.

Lancaster Pa high rise in downtown

This isn’t Lancaster’s first exploration of municipal broadband, or PPPs. The city has been in conversations with various providers since around 2015, when the city struck a deal with MAW Communications to build a $1.7 million fiber backbone financed by the city's water fund bond.

City residents have long complained about the spotty, expensive, and slow broadband on offer by regional monopolies like Frontier and Comcast. Limited competition means existing providers refuse to seriously compete on price, or in Frontier’s case consistently upgrade aging DSL lines to next-generation fiber.

Shentel’s service will be offered under the company’s Glo Fiber brand, which provides users with symmetrical fiber tiers of 600 Mbps (megabits per second) for $65 a month, 1.2 Gbps (gigabit per second) service for $80 per month,  or 2.4 Gbps service for $135 a month. The company has also started offering a 5 Gbps tier for $235 a month in select markets.

“One of the things that became abundantly clear out of the pandemic was the digital divide that separated lower-income communities, communities of color, who did not have access to high-speed internet who were unable to access their education, health care, jobs etc.,” Mayor Danene Sorace said at an August meeting. “Closing this divide following the pandemic became a federal priority, not just one here in Lancaster. And, quite honestly, we’re going to beat most every community to the punch.”

Inline image of downtown Lancaster courtesy of Flickr user Joseph, Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic

Inline image of downtown Lancaster rooftops courtesy of Wikimedia Commons, Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported