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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.
This is the transcript for Community Broadband Bits Episode 248. Brian Kelly of MAW Communications and Patrick Hopkins of Lancaster, Pennsylvania, join the show to discuss how the city and MAW are collaborating in a public-private partnership. Listen to this episode here.
Brian Kelly: Each of the communities that invests in Community Broadband Solutions is going to be slightly different. It's going to be about negotiating those very specific local conditions that will make the project successful.
Lisa Gonzalez: This is episode 248 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. I'm Lisa Gonzalez. In March, we shared the news about Lancaster, Pennsylvania's, public private partnership with MAW Communications on MuniNetworks.org. This week, Christopher interviews Patrick Hopkins, Business Administrator for the city, and Brian Kelly, Operations Director at MAW Communications. In the interview, you'll hear about the long and detailed planning for the Fiber to the Home project. You'll also hear about how both the city and this local provider found some ways to overcome specific challenges relating to the project. They each explain what drew them to this approach and some of the added benefits of Fiber to the Home in Lancaster. Check out the project website at LanCity Connect and learn about MAW Communications at MAWcom.com. Now here's Patrick Hopkins and Brian Kelly talking with Christopher about the LanCity city Connect project.
Christopher Mitchell: Welcome to another edition of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. I'm Chris Mitchell, and today I'm speaking with Patrick Hopkins, the Business Administrator for the City of Lancaster. Welcome to the show.
Patrick Hopkins: Thank you for having us.
Christopher Mitchell: And we also have Brian Kelly, the Operations Director at MAW Communications, a small private company that serves the region. Welcome to the show.
Brian Kelly: Thanks so much for having us.
LanCity Connect Partnership Brings Gig to Southeast Pennsylvania - Community Broadband Bits Podcast 248
Located in southeast Pennsylvania, Lancaster will soon have some of the fastest Internet access in the entire state due to its partnership with a local telecommunications firm, MAW Communications. We reported on many details about this approach here, but Community Broadband Bits podcast episode 248 offers an in-depth look.
Lancaster Business Administrator Patrick Hopkins and MAW Communications Operations Director Brian Kelly joined me to talk about the history of their partnership and the next big step: a citywide gigabit fiber-optic network.
We also talk about the risks to the public sector from trusting a private company with essential infrastructure and the potential challenges for a private sector company to work with a local government. Both sides are going into this arrangement with their eyes wide open and offer tips for what others should consider before they try to replicate the model.
If you missed it, last year we released a major paper about considerations in public-private partnerships. We did not discuss LanCity Connect, but many of themes apply.
We want your feedback and suggestions for the show-please e-mail us or leave a comment below.
Listen to other episodes here or view all episodes in our index. See other podcasts from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance here.
Thanks to Break the Bans for the music. The song is Escape and is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution (3.0) license.
LancasterOnline - April 2, 2017
LanCity Connect: Lancaster's municipal broadband is the first of its kind in Pennsylvania
Written by Tim Stuhldreher
In mid-January, The Candy Factory in Lancaster joined the early adopter program for LanCity Connect, the fiber-optic broadband network being built for the city by MAW Communications.
Previously, the co-working venue on North Queen Street got its internet service from Comcast, but “we were having nothing but problems,” co-founder Anne Kirby said.
“The minute we switched over to fiber, literally every internet issue we had went away,” Kirby said.
Lancaster officials have worked for more than a decade to bring high-speed municipal broadband to the Red Rose city.
It required creation of a unique public-private partnership with MAW, the first of its kind in Pennsylvania. Starting this spring, LanCity Connect is being made available to the public. ...
With speeds of up to a gigabit per second — that’s 1,000 megabits-per-second, or Mbps — LanCity Connect is a game-changer, local officials say, both for city services and for local residents and businesses.
An advocate for community broadband concurs.
“This is a good deal” for Lancaster, said Christopher Mitchell, the director of the nonprofit Community Broadband Networks Initiative, based in Washington, D.C. “It’s far better than the status quo.”
In Pennsylvania, a 2004 law requires cities to give their dominant local telecommunications carrier first dibs on building broadband. Only if it refuses can the city go ahead.
Fortunately for Lancaster, the carrier in question is Verizon. Unlike most of its peers, it’s been honest about its lack of interest in small markets, Mitchell said, and it granted the needed waiver.
Not only are fiber-optic networks expensive, they’re technologically challenging and have to comply with complex regulations.
Pennsylvania’s state barriers won’t stop this community from improving Internet service for its municipal facilities, residents, and businesses. The City of Lancaster is collaborating with private provider MAW Communications to ensure the community has next-generation technology. Their public-private partnership, LanCity Connect, will offer affordable 1 gigabit (1,000 Megabits per second) service over a new Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network.
Shared Risk, Public Financing
The Lancaster Online has closely followed the development of the partnership from a 2015 Wi-Fi project between the partners to the current citywide fiber plan. Here's a quick summary of the basic framework of the partnership:
MAW Communications originally built a $1.7 million fiber backbone starting in 2015 with financing from the city's water fund bond. The city had refinanced its water utility debt, saving some $7.8 million and they worked out an agreement with MAW where the private partner would deploy and own a backbone fiber network. Over the 20 year term of the deal, the city has the right to half the network for city services, including automatic meter reading (AMR) and a traffic control system, with the city being able to renew the deal for four additional terms. Officials have said this arrangement will not impact water rates.
MAW Communications will extend the network to premises, aided by a $1.5 million loan with a 7 percent interest rate from the city's general fund reserves. The provider will repay the loan over a 13 year period. As long as MAW Communications has an outstanding loan to the city, the provider cannot sell the network without the city's written approval. Though the loan will help MAW to begin building the network, the costs of connecting homes and businesses would still be prohibitive at $1,000 each if not for another element of the plan.
Brogan said that if Lancaster is selected, it would not run afoul of the state Telecommunications Act. That law prohibits cities from establishing municipal broadband networks except if existing providers indicate they have no immediate plans to offer similar services. She said the city already has a letter from Verizon clearing the way for the Google application.Oh good, glad the city secured permission from one private company to ask a different private company to build infrastructure. In the words of Yakov Smirnoff, "What a Country!"