On June 23, Los Angeles will ask the private sector for help in deploying Wi-Fi and wired broadband networks that would bring symmetrical gigabit connectivity to every home and business in the city.
In a Request for Participants document (PDF), the city outlines plans to form a Digital Infrastructure Permitting Group that will expedite applications for urban broadband projects. The document also expresses a willingness to rent out real estate for the storage of networking equipment, lease dark fiber and other city infrastructure needed for network development, and otherwise work together with providers that can help further the city’s vision for widespread and equitable broadband in the next five years.
The request builds on CityLinkLA, a broadband program that intended to provide everyone in the city with access to basic broadband service, while also encouraging private-sector investment in the city economy. In April 2014, the city canvassed the market with its initial request for information (RFI), at which point potential vendors told city officials the two big reasons they didn’t like working with government, said Mark Wolf, executive officer of the Los Angeles Information Technology Agency.
Companies said they wanted an expedited permitting process and access to the city’s assets and infrastructure, both of which the city committed to offering in its RFI.
“They weren’t being specific to Los Angeles, but talking about the kind of thing they see across the nation in governments and dealing with them for permitting processes,” Wolf said. “They said, ‘That’ll kill us if we do this.’”
Where the city’s current broadband offerings are concerned, however, Wolf said Los Angeles can do much better.
“We think that as we compare Los Angeles to other cities across the nation, that we’re paying more for slower-speed Internet than others are,” Wolf said. “We’d like to see more competition in this space and we would like to have a gigabit offering in Los Angeles on a widespread basis.”
Christopher Mitchell, director of the Community Broadband Networks Initiative at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, said Los Angeles’ newest RFP will help test a claim long held by the city’s large incumbent broadband providers -- that they are as hampered as anyone by bureaucratic mud.
“A city like Los Angeles is in an incredibly tough position because Time Warner Cable is basically not going to invest anything in there unless it absolutely has to,” said Mitchell. “Everything the city does to try to bring in competition, any new competitor recognizes that Time Warner Cable is going to try to make its life miserable. Time Warner Cable is one of a number of cable companies that have long been claiming that if cities would just make everything really easy, they would invest more, and I’ve long believed that’s not true.”
In addition to concessions that would make market entry easier for smaller companies, the city is making digital equality a top priority. The RFP explains that any buildout using a demand-based model must be designed so as not to exacerbate the city’s digital divide. The city also reported plans to require a slower, free level of Internet service to be offered alongside the high-speed offerings, so that as many of the city’s inhabitants would be reached by the project as possible.
“They’re making sure that low-income communities aren’t left behind,” Mitchell said. “I think that’s really important because there’s a number of approaches in which I think we are seeing low-income communities being left behind, and that’s troubling -- in particular, AT&T. I think they’ve been pretty explicit about where they deploy U-verse and now where they’re doing GigaPower. That’s a lot of the higher-income, higher-revenue locations, and it makes the problem of making sure everyone has access more difficult.”
Time Warner Cable Public Relations Vice President Bobby Amirshahi told Government Technology that the company is eager to take advantage of the new expedited permitting processes along with everyone else, and that it shares the city’s commitment to high speeds and secure Wi-Fi.
“As we promised, we completed our ‘TWC Maxx’ deployment in Los Angeles in 2014, which increased our Internet speeds throughout the city up to 300 mbps, while significantly improving reliability and continuing to expand our community Wi-Fi network,” Amirshahi said. “As a result, Los Angeles now has one of the fastest and most advanced Internet infrastructures of any city in the nation. As Gigasphere technology is introduced, we are well positioned to deliver residential Internet speeds of up to 1 Gigabit per second throughout our entire L.A. footprint — not just in a few neighborhoods — just as we said we would when we participated in the city’s RFI process.”
AT&T also vowed its commitment to the digital divide, citing participation in programs like the ConnectED initiative, the Obama administration’s reach for connecting 99 percent of American students to the Internet by 2018, and the Connect America Fund, an FCC program targeting rural broadband connectivity.
“In 2014, we identified the Los Angeles metro area as a candidate for our GigaPower product,” said Alexandra Krasov, AT&T director of communications and public affairs. “However at this time, we have not identified any specific communities in Los Angeles to launch the product – so any discussion of specific communities and income levels is nothing more than conjecture at this point. In locations where we currently provide our GigaPower product, we service neighborhoods of various income levels where there is a demand for high-speed Internet and a solid investment case.”
In July, Los Angeles will host a bidders conference, during which time potential vendors can ask the city questions about the project. The results of that conference will subsequently be posted on the program’s website at citylinkla.org. The city is scheduled to begin asking for vendor responses in November.