Connect Superior identifies providers for fiber-optic network

The City Council and a tech ommittee will be presented options for launching construction of city-owned broadband.

Fiber optic cable, orange marking flags and utility pole. Concep
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SUPERIOR — Connect Superior, the city’s plan to reach every home and business with fiber-optic infrastructure for broadband access, moved several steps closer to becoming a reality over the last three months.

In addition to completing the high-level design for the project, Magellan has been working on the financials and identifying internet service providers that fit the city’s open-access model for providing internet access in Superior.

Magellan presented an update of its work to the communications and information technology committee Monday, May 1.

The company has also identified the areas of the city where there is the greatest population density where city officials could decide to launch the project to get the most bang for the buck.

Building in high-density areas would allow the city to reach more homes and businesses for a lower cost, said John Honker, project manager with Magellan. He said if the city decides to build along the downtown corridor, it would allow the city to build sustainability into the network and reinvest in the network to reach additional residents.


“This provides the greatest opportunity for you to connect neighborhoods and businesses in the downtown corridor,” Honker said. “And as you do this, we can move up north to the north end of the city and we can also move west into the rural areas of the city and to Billings Park.”

The first phase, which the city allocated $5 million for, would reach 800-900 homes, Honker said.

Honker said while some areas of Billings Park are not as dense, the city could still build into those neighborhoods selectively without a major financial burden to the city.

Phases 3, 4 and 5 would move to the eastern portion of the city and to the south, Honker said. He said the plan would allow the city to make changes to address specific needs, such as reaching people who are underserved by broadband or people who are economically disadvantaged.

Mayor Jim Paine said that model is based on seeking an economically productive network; an alternative would be a socially productive model that would reach economically disadvantaged individuals first. Paine said he’s asked Magellan to provide the council options before deciding where to launch the network.

The committee will be presented with options for the first neighborhood to be built in advance of making a decision.

Honker said the city received a good response when it requested information from internet service providers who would consider providing service across the city-owned network. Of the four that responded, two stood out as understanding the city’s objective and willingness to work with the city to operate in a competitive open-access network: Duluthian, headquartered in Duluth, and Advanced Stream, headquartered in Montana. Both provide service on fiber-optic networks, he said.

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Mayor Jim Paine said the conversations with the internet service providers were some of the most encouraging aspects of the discussion so far, and they add expertise to the project that he hadn’t considered.


“At one point, we were wondering if we would get any response,” said Councilor Tylor Elm, chairman of the communications and information technology committee. “And to get four responses so far is pretty impressive.”

The next phase of the project includes negotiating with internet service providers, formalizing the financial plan and finalizing the pilot area where construction would begin.

“I think we’ve made a lot of progress in the last three months as we’ve gotten into discussions with ISPs (internet service providers),” Honker said.

Paine said before the city moves ahead with seeking proposals for construction, he would like to see the council receive a full presentation on the project. Until they are ready to do that, however, he said updates should be made to the communications and information technology committee.

Dan Shea, an adviser to the information technology committee, said he would expect the committee to meet more frequently than the typical quarterly schedule as things move ahead. No date has been set for the next meeting.

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Shelley Nelson is a reporter with the Duluth Media Group since 1997, and has covered Superior and Douglas County communities and government for the Duluth News Tribune from 1999 to 2006, and the Superior Telegram since 2006. Contact her at 715-395-5022 or
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