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Newark, Delaware, prides itself on its small-city status: a bike-friendly place with a great main street and home to 30,000 residents. Some, however, consider poor Internet access Newark's biggest small-city problem.
In December, the City Council decided to move forward with a feasibility study for a municipal broadband network. In a 4-3 vote, the city council hired a consulting firm to investigate the city’s options for connectivity. For $69,000, the firm will answer Newark's questions, and the city will attempt to make an informed decision on the possibility of a municipal network.
Process for a Feasibility Study
As we reported in September, residents have driven the push toward a publicly owned network; the city council took notice and began considering the possibility. In October 2015, They hosted a public meeting to bring together community stakeholders and interested residents. At that point, community leaders heard from a consulting company about what a feasibility study would entail.
Originally priced at $10,000 for a basic analysis, the cost of the feasibility study increased to $69,000 over the next several months because the city council chose to expand the depth of the study. They wanted an extensive analysis of all the options, especially connecting to the local University of Delaware to any proposed municipal network. At the city council meeting in December, members decided to greenlight the feasibility study. The funding will come out of the budget for the Legislative Department’s legal and consulting services.
Why A Municipal Network?
In 2014, the city installed smart electric and water meters which run on a Wi-Fi mesh network. Having greater connectivity could encourage expansion for other uses. High-quality Internet access for businesses and residents, high-speed data transport for local healthcare clinics, parking meters, surveillance, public safety, and cloud computing are only few potential uses for a municipal fiber network.
The City of Newark, population 30,000 and home to the University of Delaware, is considering commissioning a feasibility study but first will host a workshop to discuss the potential of a municipal network. City leaders want to bring together members of the community, broadband providers, experts, and municipal employees before it commits to the $10,000 study.
Residents spoke at a recent city council meeting, demanding that the City inquire into the potential for a municipal broadband network, reported Delaware’s News Journal. Community interest led City Information Technology manager Josh Brechbuehl to research the City’s pre-existing Internet infrastructure, as well as speak with a wide array of broadband experts. Brechbuehl delivered a presentation to the city council on July 27 (transcript of the council meeting minutes here), during which he laid out his vision for bringing high-speed Internet to Newark:
Admittedly I started off pretty pessimistic about the opportunity and the possibility of achieving something like this, and I will say that through my research, I’ve become somewhat of a believer, a cautious believer, but definitely a believer that says this should be investigated.
The City currently has access to a wireless mesh network, but Brechbuehl believes fiber would be a better investment in the long term:
“We do have a WiFi network. It is very, very slow and that is by design. It was never designed to handle active devices such as smartphones, tablets, desktop computers, laptop computers...It was designed to carry very, very tiny bits of information a few times a day and that’s it,” he told the council.