Alexandria officials are in the early stages of developing a long-term strategy to bring broadband to the city.
In the weeks ahead, city officials plan to change the composition and responsibilities of the city’s IT Commission with the purpose of bringing its charge in line with the increased importance of information technology in people’s lives.
The commission is expected to meet with city staff to develop a strategy based on several policies, including assessing conduit deployment, making an inventory of existing broadband assets like light poles and rooftops, and to explore the possibility of public-private partnerships to expand broadband infrastructure and outside funding.
“This is just the type of city that is ready for something like this,” Councilwoman Del Pepper said. “I see it as an essential way for us to moving forward in technology.”
Councilman Justin Wilson said the strategy-forming policies are based off what Google Fiber and other cities use in developing broadband networks.
Verizon FiOS opted not to add Alexandria to its portfolio in 2010.
“Up until now, I think the city as it related to broadband has been very passive and waiting for the private sector to come to us,” said Wilson, who presented a memo at last week’s meeting addressing the development of a broadband strategy. “Despite our best effort and kind of due to a bit little of bad luck and some timing issues, that has not worked out. I think we have an opportunity now, especially with the changes in the commission and the changes in the market place, to start to shape a real full-throated effort on the part of the city to bring new broadband options to our city, for our businesses and our residents and the provision of city services.”
Wilson pointed to Chattanooga, Tenn., as an example of a similar-sized city (with a redeveloping waterfront, by the way) that retrofitted a public electricity utility to build a $300 million fiber network. The city’s electric company spent a decade installing the cables and it has proven to be a huge economic driver for Tennessee’s fourth-largest city.
Alexandria City Manager Rashad Young suggested a $10 million investment in a municipal fiber network as part of his capital improvement project recommendations in the most recent budget cycle. Because the city did not have a broadband strategy in place, the council did not support the recommendation, Wilson said.
By developing a strategy, council may be more likely to invest.
Young will offer council a few recommendations about developing a broadband strategy in the months ahead.
“Glad to hear we’re beginning to seriously trying to wrap out hands around it and move something forward because… other cities and towns have found ways to address this issue,” Mayor Bill Euille said. “I’d like to think Alexandria, as being an innovative and extraordinary place, we can do likewise.”