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City Lowers Public Benefit Expectations for Municipal Fiber Plans

Less than a month after the initial announcement of bidding for a new municipal fiber network, the city is saying people may have let their expectations run a little too rampant.

The city is hoping to build a broadband network for its facilities, but Craig Fifer, a spokesman for the City of Alexandria, clarified that the side benefit of increased consumer choice in cable, voice and broadband services is still conditional.

“This is an intended benefit, but only if private providers choose to avail themselves of the opportunity,” Fifer said.

Getting the public on board isn’t always a sure bet. In neighboring Arlington, the county government spent $4.1 million to build a network that went completely unused by private entities.

Fifer also noted that the city’s plans wouldn’t involve leasing fiber capacity, but excess conduit space — meaning private providers would still have to run their own fiber cables but could do so through city-built conduits.

“It’s important to clarify that the plan is to lease excess conduit capacity, not excess fiber capacity,” Fifer said. “Private providers would be able to run their own fiber without having to dig. This is an important distinction for legal reasons.”

Hopes were previously high in 2010 when the city applied to the Google Fiber network and Verizon FiOS, but city officials say those plans have all fallen through.

“With new Verizon FiOS deployment plans shelved around the country and Google Fiber largely dead, the investment in broadband infrastructure must fall to local governments,” Mayor Justin Wilson said in a newsletter.

Still, despite the modulation of expectations, Wilson said in the newsletter that he was hopeful.

“This is an issue that impacts not only residents but also our businesses and the ability of our community to attract new investment,” Wilson said. “Over 6 years ago, I proposed that the City develop a broadband plan to bring true competition to Alexandria’s broadband market. It has taken far too long, but the City is finally moving ahead on an effort to bring new broadband capacity to our community.”

Photo via J.C. Burns/Flickr

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