Is city-owned fiber with private sector service delivery the magic formula for building fiber-to-the-premises (FTTP)? At minimum, it’s a tremendous innovation in local broadband—and CTC is proud to be part of the pioneering team that developed this model.
Last night, the Westminster, Maryland City Council voted to approve a groundbreaking FTTP partnership with a formidable private partner, Ting Internet. Ting is the same company that delivers great mobile broadband service along with excellent customer service that Consumer Reports calls the best in the industry.
Although Westminster is located only an hour from Washington, D.C. and 45 minutes from Baltimore, it is still largely cut off from those job centers because no major highways reach into the City. Years ago, the City identified fiber optics as the next-generation superhighway that would connect it to the world—for education, health care, commerce, and innovation.
Last year, the Council funded two FTTP pilots—one connecting midrise, high-rise, and single-family residences in a large senior community, the other connecting businesses in an under-served business park. The next phases of the project will systematically extend that fiber, with the goal of passing every home and business within a few years.
While Westminster intends to enable Gigabit service to any residence or business that wants it, the City won’t be an Internet service provider: That’s where the partnership with Ting comes in.
The City will fund, own, and maintain the fiber; Ting will lease the fiber and provide all equipment and services. Ting will pay the City to use the fiber—reducing the City’s risk while enabling Ting to offer Gigabit Internet in Westminster without having to build a fiber network from scratch.
To the City, fiber is essential infrastructure and, like roads and bridges, is fundamental to Westminster’s future growth and prosperity. Building and maintaining the fiber will play to the City’s infrastructure expertise—while Ting will focus on its core strengths of network operations and customer service.
Last night’s announcement represents an important example of the tremendous innovation we are seeing in broadband public-private partnerships nationwide. Westminster’s model is less risky to the City than the traditional municipal broadband model in which the locality builds, owns, and operates a triple-play network and holds all financial and other risks. It also differs from a project where the entire investment is private, such as the Google Fiber projects, in which the City has less risk but also limited influence.
Instead, Westminster’s model lets it split the risk with Ting, yet still realize all the benefits of FTTP. The Urbana/Champaign, Illinois partnership with iTV-3, another CTC project I’ve written about in the past, is a variation of the shared-risk model. These kinds of innovative new models can enable localities to develop Gigabit fiber networks by sharing costs and risks, while maximizing both public and private benefits.
This partnership also demonstrates the power of local vision. Every successful project has great leadership, and that’s true for Westminster. City Council President Robert Wack and City Administrator Marge Wolf led a capable City staff through a multi-year process that will result in Maryland’s first Gigabit fiber network. Ting CEO Elliot Noss and Director of Networks Adam Eisner showed the same level of vision through their willingness to closely collaborate with the City, understand the City’s needs and concerns, and work toward a win-win scenario.
I should note, also, that this project is made possible by Westminster’s redundant and robust fiber connections to the Baltimore Internet POP—connections that came from efforts by the surrounding counties in the region (through the Carroll County Fiber Network and Inter-County Broadband Network) to build open access, middle-mile fiber—enabling Westminster to focus on last-mile fiber deployment.
I’m really proud to have been part of developing this partnership. The CTC team has worked with the City since the project first took shape and through all its phases, including market research, financial modeling, feasibility analysis, and engineering.
So here’s to Westminster and Ting—and the many projects we think are likely to build on their innovative model for a big broadband future.
– Joanne S. Hovis, President, CTC Technology & Energy