OnLight Aurora Expanding To Create "Smart Park"

Last fall, the City Council in Aurora, Illinois, approved a grant to OnLight Aurora to help fund the publicly owned network expansion to more commercial facilities along South River Street. This year, community leaders plan to move north and bring fiber optic infrastructure to RiverEdge Park along the Fox River as they turn the location into a “smart park.”

RiverEdge Park hosts festivals and other events, including summer concerts at it’s pavilion. Public officials want to take advantage of the community’s publicly owned broadband infrastructure for better security and to control parking. The city’s CIO Michael Pegues says that with better parking monitor and control, the city will be able to provide quicker emergency response and more efficient energy use. OnLight Aurora at RiverEdge Park may also generate revenue with kiosks for advertising.

Pegues and other city officials want to continue to grow Aurora’s increasing reputation as a tech-savvy community and to possibly expand the network to serve the nearby communities of Naperville and North Aurora.

“Smart” Attraction

Community leaders, including Pegues and Mayor Richard Irvin, want to cultivate Aurora’s growing reputation as a “smart city.” They’ve already leveraged OnLight Aurora to attract high-tech jobs, such as luring wireless communications company Scientel Solutions from Lombard. Scientel leadership described OnLight Aurora as “a big attraction.” The company will build its new headquarters near CyrusOne, a data center that connects to the fiber network.

The addition of a “smart park” is another creative way to use the publicly owned infrastructure in ways that serve lifestyles of people in the community. Aurora hopes to soon be named a “smart city” by the D.C. Smart Cities Coalition. The Coalition's video describes what characteristics "smart cities" share:


Evolution Of A Necessity

Aurora's fiber network began as a way for the municipality to improve connectivity for public facilities, cut telecommunications costs, and find the reliability that incumbents weren’t providing in the mid-1990s. When Aurora needed consistency instead of a patchwork of different connections, they decided to invest in fiber to future-proof their investment.

They had been paying about $500,000 per year to lease multiple lines from different providers and realized that an investment in a publicly owned network could save them significantly over the long-term. The final cost to deploy the network came to approximately $7 million, but they also reduced their costs for telecommunications by $485,000 per year.

In 2011, the Federal Highway Administration (FHA) injected a $12 million grant into the network, which allowed them to pay off the original cost of deployment. The FHA integrated the city’s fiber into a project to upgrade traffic signals as part of an Intelligent Traffic System (ITS).

Even though the city had this money-saving fiber asset as early as the 1990s, Aurora didn’t form the nonprofit OnLight Aurora ISP until 2012. At that time, they began serving community anchor institutions (CAIs), schools, and businesses. We spoke with Alderman Rick Mervine in 2014 about the network for episode 123 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast.

More Innovation Ahead?

As the city continues to explore the possibilities, Pegues told the Chicago Tribune that it may take OnLight Aurora to the municipal airport, expand ways for citizens to access city data online, and establish a cyber security team. They are also considering how public-private partnerships can help them use the fiber infrastructure in new ways.