Superior council hears bigger picture of broadband proposal

The estimated total cost for the project is $52.6 million, significantly higher than the $31 million projected in the city’s initial broadband master plan.

Internet cable, RJ-45 plug on laptop keyboard.
Internet cable, RJ-45 plug on laptop keyboard. High speed fiber optic internet concept.
Proxima Studio -

SUPERIOR — Officials are starting to get a clearer picture of what it would take to built the infrastructure for a fiber optic network across the city.

After about a year of work, Magellan presented the council with a high-level design, refined cost estimates and potential grant opportunities to help the city pay for the network should it be built over the next five to 10 years. The project would consist of installing 180-240 miles of new fiber throughout the city that would go past 12,200 homes and 1,100 businesses.

"Wherever you have citizens or businesses, you want to have fiber available for them to be able to connect," said John Honker, project manager with Magellan.

The estimated total cost for the project is $52.6 million, significantly higher than the $31 million projected in the city’s initial broadband master plan.

"Broadband is hot right now," Honker said. "We've seen over the last two years costs rise pretty considerably." On projects the company has been working on, he said costs have increased 20% to 30% over the last year or two.


Councillor Brent Fennessey asked Honker if he expected that trend to continue; Fennessey voted against the plan when the estimated cost was $31 million.

Honker said Magellan has seen some tapering in cost increases, and costs have flattened a bit as supply chain issues have started to work themselves out.

The city's plan is to use $5 million in funding from the American Rescue Plan Act to launch the first phase on the project, which would reach about 1,000 homes in a high-density neighborhood.

As early as the next month, Mayor Jim Paine the council could be considering a recommendation for the pilot neighborhood where construction would begin.

"I believe we're going to make a few recommendations, a few very strong candidates first," Paine said. The recommendation will come through the city's communications and information technology committee.

Honker said other funding opportunities could include the Broadband Equity Access and Deployment program, which will provide $42.45 billion in grants to expand high-speed internet access across the nation. A conservative estimate is that Superior could be eligible for $5 million to $10 million in BEAD funding to reach up to another 2,000 homes, Honker said.

Subsequent phases of the project could be supported by additional broadband grants as they become available, Honker said.

Fennessey asked if the cost for the individual user had been broken out.


Honker said the typical ranges they see are $45-$50 for a lower range product; $50-$60 for a mid-range product and $60-$70 for a higher end product. The actual numbers will be vetted out through the financial plan.

The network would be operated and maintained by city staff paid for through the enterprise fund's user fees, similar to the way the city operates the wastewater treatment plant, Paine said.

Councilor Mark Johnson questioned how the city will deal with emergent technology over time as the network is built out.

"Unless Albert Einstein and the theory of general relativity are wrong, you can't have faster internet than this," Paine said. "It's a light-based network and literally moves at the speed of light."

Honker said the fiber won't need to change to take advantage of innovation as new equipment emerges that makes the network faster, more reliable and less expensive to operate. The city could upgrade as the network is built out over the next five to 10 years.

"Cities all over the country are creating networks very successfully," Paine said. "In fact, I would be surprised if 50 years from now, every city doesn't have its own network. It's just a vital utility."

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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