OnLight Aurora: Ever Expanding Fiber Optic Network

On October 24, the Aurora, Illinois, City Council Finance Committee approved a $40,000 grant to OnLight Aurora to extend the city’s fiber optic network to River Street Plaza area commercial properties.

The City of Light And Dark Fiber

OnLight Aurora is the nonprofit ISP that leases publicly owned fiber optic infrastructure to serve the city’s municipal government, community anchor institutions (CAIs), two data centers (Bytegrid and CyrusOne) and local businesses.

Prior to OnLight Aurora’s network, the city’s previous network was a patchwork of varying speeds and capabilities. The network was old, unreliable for government employees, and expensive. In 2005-2006, city leaders estimated that Aurora was paying nearly $500,000 a year for leased line expenses to telecommunications providers. Now, the city of Aurora saves approximately $485,000 each year by utilizing their municipal fiber optic infrastructure.

The community spent approximately $7 million to construct the network between 2008 and 2011. Aurora initially financed the project with general obligation bonds and estimated payback at 10 years. In 2011, Aurora received a Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality (CMAQ) grant from the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) administered through the Illinois Department of Transportation. The approximately $12 million FHWA grant financed the upgrades to 60 traffic signals, the installation of extra fiber strands, and the elimination of all remaining initial debt for the network.

In 2012, the city’s broadband task force formed OnLight Aurora to manage the network. Shortly after, the nonprofit received a $1 million Illinois Gigabit Communities Challenge award from The Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity to spur job creation and expand the network further. They used the additional funds to help fund the costs of connecting customers and to reach more institutions such as healthcare facilities and business parks.

Extending The Network

The current network consists of over 60 miles of underground fiber including three self-healing rings. The OnLight Aurora’s network extends it's reach by connecting to the Kane County fiber optic network that was initially utilized to connect CAIs and now offers dark fiber connections to businesses and leasing to ISPs in select areas.

The new OnLight Aurora network extension will connect 14 tenant commercial spaces on the first floor of two buildings along South River Street to the city's fiber optic network. According to Bill Weit, who works in marketing for the city, only three of the 14 spaces are occupied and community leaders feel high-quality Internet infrastructure will make the spaces more desirable. The current extension does not plan to connect the fiber optic network to condominium residents in the two buildings.

Learn more about OnLight Aurora listen to Lisa’s 2014 conversation with Alderman Rick Mervine in episode 123 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast.