A newly formed committee is exploring options for a lower-cost way to bring the internet to people’s homes and businesses in Superior.

The Communications and Information Technology Committee is working to develop a strategic plan to guide development of a fiber optic network that would allow residents and businesses to choose better service at a lower cost.

This started in 2017 when broadband was an agency issue because of issues with bandwidth scarcity, high prices and some missed grant opportunities, said Councilor Tylor Elm, chairman of the committee. He said the idea isn’t to create the traditional internet service provider model; it would develop the fiber optic infrastructure only.

“I would imagine others would want to adopt this once the pioneers break ground,” Elm said. “It has so much potential for all communication.”

Tomorrow’s economy will be an on-demand economy based on technologies such as distributive ledger, government and industry applications that are coming down the line, artificial intelligence, automation and the internet of things, said Devin Cox of Entry Point Networks based in Salt Lake City, Utah.

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“Ten years ago, you would have one or two or three computers hooked up to your house,” Cox said. “Today, if you have kids and Netflix and phones, you may have 11 or 12 different devices attached.”

That number could grow to hundreds, even thousands, when the internet of things takes hold just based on the technologies being developed now, Cox said. That’s not taking into consideration things that aren’t in development yet.

Cox presented the committee an alternative approach to getting people to the internet by separating the fiber optic infrastructure and internet service providers. ISPs currently provide the infrastructure in Superior. Under the proposal the committee is beginning to look at, the city would create a utility to build out the fiber optic infrastructure, which would allow network users to select lower-cost ISPs to get to the internet.

“If you ran your road systems the way you run your communications systems, UPS would build a road to every home and FedEx would build a separate road to every home,” Cox said. “FedEx trucks would not be allowed to run on UPS roads and vice versa. That makes no sense in the physical world … with fiber it makes no sense to do it digitally either because fiber has such a capacity.”

In Ammon, Idaho, which is currently building its fiber optic infrastructure, Cox said the average cost for 30 mbps download speed and 5 mbps upload speed connection (30/5) was $93 on a two-year contract through the local cable company.

Cox said Ammon cut that cost significantly for a 1-gigabyte-per-second symmetrical connection (1,000/1,000).

There are three centers for the cost in Ammon, totaling $48.49 per month:

  • Installation of fiber optic link to the city network ($22 per month)
  • The network maintenance fee ($16.50 per month)
  • The cost of the ISP ($9.99).

The cost to connect in the city of 16,475 is about $3,300 and can be paid up front or over 20 years as the utility installs the network in localized districts. If the property is sold, the debt stays with property, according to Ammon Fiber Optics

The installation fee goes away once the connection cost is paid, Cox said.

“The objective was to push the price down and make us competitive with any of the large metro areas of the country,” said Bruce Patterson, city of Ammon technology director in a video explaining the utility. He said because Ammon is in a more rural area, the city had to take on the installation and maintenance of the fiber optic lines, and the city utility does it at cost for the benefit of the community and businesses.

“What we see is cities and towns that have robust communication infrastructure at the disposal of its residents and business owners or operators, they tend to do better,” Cox said. “They have more economic growth.”

With the fiber optic infrastructure installed, Travus Elm, co-owner of discoverPC.net, said upgrading the speed of the network would be a matter of changing the transceivers the lines connect to.

“We have a plethora of ISPs that could deploy almost instantaneously once the infrastructure was in place,” he said.

Cox recommended the committee start its exploration of a fiber optic utility by developing a strategic plan.

“I think we should have something by the next meeting, some templates or ideas for a strategic plan,” said Councilor Craig Sutherland, a member of the committee who made the motion to begin the process.

Part of that strategy should include community engagement component to build trust with the community, Patterson said. In launching Ammon's fiber utility, he said the city started with 10 pilot homes and those property owners became advocates for what the city was doing in establishing the utility.

"People trust their neighbors," Patterson said.