Fast, affordable Internet access for all.
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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.”
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.
Situated in rural Central New York, Madison County (pop. 71,000) was named in honor of America’s fourth President, James Madison. But it was the region’s history of growing hops for beer that really put the county on the map. By 1859, New York state produced 80 percent of all hops grown in the U.S., thanks in no small measure to the crops in Madison County.
Today, while the community still celebrates this history at the annual HopFest, county leaders are now focused on the future and how to ensure the region does not get left in the dust by missing out on an essential economic development ingredient: high-speed Internet connectivity. In a modern economy, broadband infrastructure is indispensable in general terms and specifically for the efficient operation of precision agriculture.
With a focus now on the digital landscape, Madison County planners have embarked on a project to bring fiber to the farm as well as thousands of other other residents and businesses across the region.
What really got things off the ground, or rather into the ground, was the county being awarded a USDA ReConnect grant last year. Madison is the only county in United States to directly receive ReConnect grant funding in FY 2020.
In July, the USDA announced it would grant $10.1 million in ReConnect funds in support of the project to deploy a fiber-to-the-premises network that will connect 2,170 people, 50 farms and 30 businesses to high-speed broadband in Madison County as part of a larger countywide project. The county will work with private Internet Service provider (ISP) Empire Access to eventually bring fiber connectivity to nearly 7,600 households in the region.
A Fertile Land For Fiber
Two years ago, Madison County officials decided to make broadband a top priority. The most underserved area of Madison is in the southern part of the county, where DSL and satellite were primarily offered, with limited addresses eligible for cable access.