Scranton, PA Issues RFQ For Citywide Gigabit Fiber Network

Scranton Pa City Seal

The city of Scranton, Pennsylvania has issued a request for qualifications (RFQ) for vendors that may be tasked with constructing an affordable citywide fiber network. City leaders say the RFQ is the opening chapter in a bid to bring affordable broadband access to city residents long neglected by dominant regional monopolies.

According to the full RFQ, officials are looking for partner companies capable of building a citywide network capable of providing 1 Gbps (gigabit per second) download and upload speeds to all premises in the City of Scranton, as well as expanded fiber access for city municipal services and key anchor institutions.

“The City does not require municipal ownership of the fiber or a City operational role,” the RFQ states. “However, the City does request connectivity to certain City sites, a 40-year indefeasible right of use (IRU) for 12 strands of fiber for municipal noncommercial purposes throughout the network, and an access and maintenance agreement governing these strands.”

Scranton Pa map

As with so many U.S. markets, broadband competition in Scranton is hard to come by. The market is largely dominated by either Comcast Xfinity or Verizon, the latter of which has been heavily criticized by unions and consumer groups for failing to uniformly upgrade its aging DSL network to fiber, and failing to repair aging lines on a timely basis.

This lack of meaningful competition results in slow broadband speeds, spotty coverage, substandard customer service, and significantly higher prices. Even then, the city hasn’t been without signs of life in the marketplace.

Fiber-based ISP Empire Access announced last month that it had broken ground on an 86 mile fiber network scheduled to be completed by the end of the year, with another 90 mile extension expected in 2024. It’s part of a broader plan by the company to pass 140,000 new households with fiber across Pennsylvania and New York State.

Scranton Electric City sign

But, like the efforts that preceded it, this deployment will only prioritize broadband in some parts of the city, a practice often detrimental to marginalized and minority neighborhoods.

"Paramount among the goals was ubiquitous service for the entire city," Scranton Business Administrator Eileen Cipriani recently told the Scranton Times-Tribune.

Proposals to the city are due by November 6. City officials say they’d prefer solutions that come at no cost to the city, but would be willing to work with applicants to ensure easy access to city infrastructure and permitting processes.

“Although the City is aware of substantial private partner interest in serving the City, and prefers responses that do not incur costs to the City, Scranton has the authority and ability to make American Rescue Plan (ARPA) funds available, to waive permit fees, and to consider other construction facilitation steps that may be requested by the Proposer,” the RFQ states. “The City is committed to being an active partner and taking all reasonable steps to facilitate and speed construction.”

Additional specifics on Scranton’s plan to deliver affordable citywide broadband access should manifest sometime early in the new year.

Inline map of Scranton PA courtesy of Wikipedia 

Inline image of Scranton Electric City sign courtesy of Wikimedia Commons, CC0 1.0 Universal