Cleveland to get two citywide Internet services, bridging the digital divide

CLEVELAND, Ohio The City of Cleveland is poised to get two citywide Internet services under plans unveiled Friday by Mayor Justin Bibb.

One option would provide an affordable $18/month broadband plan through local non-profit DigitalC, which uses landline wireless technology to deliver high-speed connectivity. The second option would come through a proposed deal with SiFi Networks, which would roll out fiber optic lines throughout the city.

It was important to take a thorough and thoughtful approach to not only creating the right foundation for how we think about eliminating the digital divide in Cleveland, but also raising the bar to ensure the city is prepared and ready for the 21st century economy. Bibb told He said access to the Internet is a fundamental right.

Both Bibb and Council Chairman Blaine Griffin said the city’s plans will go a long way towards bridging the digital divide for Cleveland, where about 35 percent of residents currently lack broadband service at home, according to the latest census data. of the United States.

DigitalC access is expected to be available to all of Cleveland’s approximately 170,000 households, regardless of income level, and the fiber network is expected to be available to all residents and businesses, according to the city.

Residents can expect access to DigitalC connectivity rather quickly, within approximately 18 months of the city closing the proposed deal.

It will take longer to install fiber lines. The design and other preparatory work for the SiFis infrastructure will take two years, and construction is expected to take another five.

SiFi Networks’ proposal involves no public money, Bibb said. The company, which already has deals with more than 40 cities in 11 states, is expected to privately invest more than $400 million to build its fiber network in Cleveland. Once built, SiFi would operate the lines and sell wholesale access to those lines to Internet service providers with whom residents would do business.

Bibb, citing the latest data from the Federal Communications Commission, said the SiFis network would be a first for Ohio and major cities in the region.

No other city in Ohio, and no other major metropolitan area in the Great Lakes, can boast a universal citywide fiber-optic network, Bibb said in a news release.

Other cities that have already partnered with SiFi include: Fullerton, California; Mesa, Arizona; Saratoga Springs, New York; and Salem, Massachusetts.

Bibb pointed out that Cleveland’s approach to citywide Internet access is a departure from what the private market has long offered.

This is just signaling to the market that we want to create more competition to ensure that no community in our city is left behind. Because if you don’t create that competition, you get what we’ve seen before the pandemic, where telecom companies pick and choose where they want to invest, where they want to build, and that’s where we have problems like digital redlining, Bibb said.

Meanwhile, the DigitalC deal would leverage all of the $20 million in the U.S. bailout that City Council and former Mayor Frank Jackson set aside for broadband services in late 2021. But that city money isn’t enough to provide access to all of Cleveland. To bring the project to the finish line, DigitalC will draw on its own financial reserves, and the Jack, Joseph and Morton Mandel Foundation and the David and Inez Myers Foundation are matching the city’s money with a $20 million investment, officials said. .

Two-thirds of our city lacks access to quality broadband internet. We hope this partnership leads to robust conversations about closing the digital divide for Clevelanders of all ages, City Council President Blaine Griffin said in the release.

The DigitalC deal would expand its low-cost service that is already in place in parts of the city. Residents can expect speeds of 100/100Mbps, which Bibb described as fast enough for multiple devices simultaneously, capable of satisfying everything from homework and job applications, to Zoom meetings and playing video games.

DigitalC, formerly known as OneCommunity, has been operating in Cleveland for some time, but some have raised questions about its effectiveness and what appear to be its relatively small-scale implementations of Internet access. Bibb says it’s the right organization for the job. In part, it’s because he has confidence in his board and new CEO, Joshua Edmonds, who was once a Cleveland Foundations Digital Innovation Fellow before serving as Detroit’s first director of digital inclusion.

In addition to providing actual Internet services, DigitalC would also expand its digital literacy education and help connect residents to related services, such as the federal government’s Affordable Connectivity program. They will also go door-to-door to let residents know about the new services, according to the release.

Several other partners and community organizations would supplement DigitalC’s outreach with additional referrals and training workshops, the release said.

Both plans will require City Council approval, where at least one of the proposals is expected to be presented on Monday.

Bibb said the city’s two-pronged strategy for citywide access to a faster, more convenient option and long-term rollout of fiber is intended to ensure that all Clevelanders can finally access internet connectivity from home.

I think this investment is a sign that our administration is committed to investing in every neighborhood in our city, to tell residents from Mount Pleasant to West Park that your neighborhood matters, that your neighborhood deserves the latest and greatest technology. Bibb said.

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