San Jose’s Telecom Pacts Expand Broadband Infrastructure, Digital Equity

The city of San Jose announced agreements with AT&T, Verizon and Mobilitie that will bring better cell and Internet service, hundreds of miles of fiber and millions of dollars in private-sector investment.

by / June 15, 2018
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Silicon Valley’s largest municipality, announced comprehensive agreements with three major telecommunications providers that are aimed at significantly improving its cellphone and broadband coverage and smart city efforts, while expanding digital equity.

The city of San Jose announced on June 15 it had reached agreements to expand small cell sites, broadband penetration and smart city initiatives with existing telecommunications providers AT&T, Verizon and Mobilitie. The pacts are headed to the San Jose City Council for final approval on June 26, with work on small cell sites expected to begin immediately thereafter, the city’s Chief Innovation Officer Shireen Santosham told Government Technology.

Collectively, the agreements represent a private-sector investment of more than $500 million in San Jose’s broadband infrastructure; a combined contribution by the three companies of $24 million to the city’s still-formative digital inclusion fund; and a total in in-kind investment of more than $4 million.

The agreements, San Jose said in a news release, “represent the largest small cell deployment in any U.S. city” — roughly 4,000 small cell sites for AT&T and Verizon combined, subject to final negotiation, and 140 for Mobilitie; and a total of 800 miles of fiber. They’re expected to offer expanded choice to San Jose residents and businesses along with speeds from “10 to 100 times faster” than existing services.

The accomplishment highlights two key points, Santosham said. First, it contradicts a narrative that cities can’t be worked with and must be pre-empted to achieve broadband deployment. And second, while she said the digital divide is a “hidden issue in the Silicon Valley” and, in some cases, around the nation, the city’s new digital inclusion fund will generate a “source of significant funding to bridge that gap,” and provide online access for children throughout the city to do their homework.

“I think this agreement shows clearly you can work with cities to get broadband deployment, test new technologies and bridge the digital divide. We accomplished all this with these agreements,” said Santosham.

San Jose worked with Stanford University on a study of low-income families to inform its broadband strategy and found nearly 95,000 residents lacked broadband or Internet access. While sobering, Mayor Sam Liccardo said those results were crucial to helping shape the city’s plans. He advised other municipalities that “having a very clear idea of the target is so important,” and said he hopes the agreements may serve as proof to governments and industry that accords can be reached.

“We’re obviously negotiating with the same industry that’s pushing for these pre-emptive laws, and I hope that with this agreement we can get beyond the fighting and back to working with the industry to ensure that all Americans can benefit from digital access,” Liccardo said.

Memorandums in the City Council’s June 26 agenda specify the agreements with AT&T and Verizon “may be negotiated” as either 10-year agreements with a five-year extension option — or as 15-year agreements; and refer to deployment of “greater than 2,000 small cells,” and “1,500 to 2,500 small cell sites” respectively. Verizon, the city said in a memo, has not previously entered into an agreement on small cell deployments.

All three pacts incentivize higher-volume deployments by offering lower usage fees than the city’s existing 2015 small cell usage fees. The city has also restructured its internal small cell permitting and staffing structure, creating a single point of contact for companies at the city manager’s office; and a seven-person vertical infrastructure team in its Public Works Department to streamline permitting.

A memo on the Mobilitie agreement specifies its duration is 15 years and for roughly 140 small cells. It will “help balance deployment” across the city, Santosham said, potentially adding small cell sites in traditionally underserved areas.

Christos Karmis, president and CEO of Mobilitie praised the city for taking action.

“5G and the Internet of Things will have a tremendous economic impact, and we commend San Jose for taking action to move infrastructure forward and law a foundation for next-gen wireless services in the Bay Area, a hotbed of intellectual capital in this country,” he said in a statement.

The AT&T and Verizon agreements, Santosham said, rise to the level of public-private partnerships because of their citywide deployments and smart city components. AT&T will provide roughly $2 million in in-kind contributions including piloting smart city solutions such as “smart lighting controllers; lighting as a connectivity platform; and community Wi-Fi,” the city memo said. This agreement builds on an earlier one announced in late April.

Jason Porter, vice president of technology planning at AT&T, described San Jose as a “fast adopter” and said the company’s FirstNet dedicated communications network for public safety and first responders is “a big incentive for us to work with these cities and gives us a great opportunity to work together.”

“That’s certainly our goal with these markets, to form these public-private partnerships so we can bring the complete innovation and technological capabilities and investment of AT&T together with the market. We’re excited about working with more cities like San Jose that are kind of leaning forward to advance digitally,” Porter said, noting that work should also help accelerate its plans to deploy 5G.

Verizon will offer roughly $2.3 million in-kind and pilot smart solutions including Traffic Data Services, which will enable vehicle speed and traffic congestion monitoring on up to 150 miles of city streets; Intersection Safety Analytics, which aims to reduce fatalities and traffic accidents at five intersections; and Parking Optimization, which uses parking data to reduce drive time and enhance enforcement.

Kevin King, director of corporate communications at Verizon, said via email the company’s agreement with the city “did not involve our public safety private core, but all investments we make in our 4G LTE network are designed to benefit consumers, businesses and public safety agencies.”

“We would hope it would be an example to other cities. Verizon wants to work with forward-thinking city leaders (like those in San Jose) to invest in IT infrastructure that provides direct benefit for residents, businesses and visitors today, and lays the foundation for continued network evolution,” King said.

Theo Douglas Staff Writer

Theo Douglas is a staff writer for Government Technology. His reporting experience includes covering municipal, county and state governments, business and breaking news. He has a Bachelor's degree in Newspaper Journalism and a Master's in History, both from California State University, Long Beach.