The city plans to offer speeds of up to 4 gigabits through its forthcoming HiLight service. Backers of publicly funded Internet say municipal projects are necessary amid the federal rollback of net neutrality protections.
(TNS) — Hillsboro’s publicly supported Internet project aims to undercut its rivals on pricing and substantially outpace them in speed.
The city council has set pricing for its forthcoming service, called HiLight, offering superfast gigabit service for $55 a month. That’s about half what Comcast charges for the same speeds. Hillsboro says it will offer speeds up to 4 gigabits for $300 a month, the same price as Comcast’s 2 gig plan.
The first homes will be online early next year, according to the city, about a year behind the initial schedule. Hillsboro says it will take a decade before HiLight reaches all neighborhoods in the city, which has more than 100,000 residents.
Cable and Internet companies remain resolutely unpopular in consumer surveys. Backers of publicly funded Internet say municipal projects are necessary amid the federal rollback of net neutrality protections, which require providers to treat all Internet traffic equally.
Yet municipal Internet service has had a mixed track record in Oregon and across the country and skeptics warn that local governments are ill-equipped to compete with large telecom companies. Lake Oswego voters rejected city-backed Internet service in 2016.
“A taxpayer-funded broadband network is redundant to the many providers that already serve the community,” Comcast said in a written statement. “Building and operating a broadband system isn’t easy. The fact that Hillsboro is again delaying the implementation is a demonstration of the complexities of such an endeavor.”
Multnomah County is moving forward with a study of a countywide public broadband network, but the scope will be somewhat smaller than anticipated. Portland chipped in just $25,000 to help fund the research, a third of what the county had sought.
So the county plans to spend $230,000 instead of $300,000 on the study. Plans call to begin research this fall with a goal of having a contractor deliver a finished study early in 2020.
Four years ago, a consultant Hillsboro hired to explore the possibility of city-run Internet service recommended against the project, warning it would be only “marginally” viable and cautioning that it was highly uncertain how many households would subscribe.
Hillsboro proceeded anyway, partly because the new community of South Hillsboro now under construction offers an opportunity to build a network to that neighborhood – which could eventually have 8,000 homes -- more economically.
Plans call for HiLight to begin service in South Hillsboro early next year, then expand to downtown and Southwest Hillsboro later in 2020.
Hillsboro had budgeted $28 million over seven years, proceeding incrementally so it doesn’t take on debt to finance the project. City financial projections forecast HiLight will begin generating cash 11 years after operations begin and pay back the city’s outlay in 17 years.
The city says it has already built 30 miles of the 66 miles of fiber backbone required; it will have to add dozens or hundreds of extra miles of local fiber to reach individual homes.
When Hillsboro first committed to public Internet service last year the city said some neighborhoods would be online by spring 2019. The city then changed plans, opting to focus on connecting local schools first.
Hillsboro hoped to have all schools connected by September. But the city postponed construction when it decided to bury the schools’ fiber underground instead of stringing it from utility poles, which Hillsboro says will improve reliability.
Hillsboro may offer the fastest residential connection in the city, but it won’t be the cheapest. Comcast advertises speeds of 60 megabits per second for $45 a month, $10 less than what HiLight will charge for a gigabit connection.
Gigabit access is 1,000 Mbps, much faster than most households need for streaming video, playing games, sending email, social networking or reading news online.
As new online services emerge, though, and connected gadgets and other Internet devices hit the market, technologists say gigabit speeds may eventually be necessary to take advantage of future services.
In addition to its standard residential Internet service, Hillsboro said it will offer Internet-based phone service, Internet and phone connections for business, and a steeply discounted plan for low-income residents.
HiLight will charge low-income households just $10 a month for gigabit connections, the same price Comcast charges for a low-income plan of 15 Mbps.
Comcast’s low-income service is available to households that participate in any of a variety of federal programs for the poor; Hillsboro says it’s still determining what criteria it will sue to determine eligibility.
©2019 The Oregonian (Portland, Ore.). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
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