How Smart Strategy and Rigorous Analysis Enable Boston to Save While Effectuating City and Public Broadband Needs

Andrew Afflerbach, PhD, P.E.
CEO & Chief Technology Officer

Like most cities, Boston needs an expanded fiber optic network to serve the fast-growing needs of City schools, police, and other departments—plus a range of applications like public safety cameras.

Boston understood its needs—but needed more clarity on its choices. Would it be possible to affordably lease all the fiber it might need for decades to come? Or should it build its own fiber—expanding the existing City network known as BoNET?

The City took a strategic approach to the issue—choosing to develop a plan to meet City broadband needs and simultaneously accomplish other policy goals, as cost-effectively as possible. To do this, Boston chose a model in which it would use its buying power to incent private sector deployment of massive fiber capabilities. Some of the fiber would go to satisfy City needs, and the balance would then be available to private ISPs for services deeper into the community, for backhaul, and for other uses that will improve broadband outcomes in the City.

To effectuate all this, Boston took the time necessary to work through the options and obtain state and local approvals. And following planning, network design, and a competitive process, the City will now get what it needs under a long-term, $10 million dark fiber lease with Crown Castle. Boston would have needed to spend five times that amount to build its own network, according to Mike Lynch, the City’s director of broadband and cable.

Now all schools, public safety agencies, and other operations throughout the City will get what they need today—plus long-term control of scalability for potential future smart city applications and public Wi-Fi—at an affordable price. The 20-year deal (technically known as an indefeasible right of use, or IRU) includes an option to extend for two additional five-year terms.

Leasing might sound easy. But getting to this point took rigorous research and analysis, engagement with the private sector, engineering, well-crafted RFI and RFP documents, and a careful look at the information and sales pitches the City received.

In 2014 the City issued an RFI and performed extensive due diligence, during which carriers shared data and strategies for collaboration. Based on the data it had collected, the well-informed City decided to use a competitive process to lease dark fiber in the long term. And thanks to a rigorous RFI response analysis, the RFP contained very clear specifications to ensure adequate fiber would serve core network nodes and each site at the network edge; that adequate route diversity would exist; that the network would be able to scale; and that provisions for maintenance and repair would meet Boston’s standards.

Multiple companies responded to the RFP, and three offered citywide solutions: Lightower, Sunesys, and Verizon. The City selected the Sunesys offering, and recently entered into a contract with Crown Castle, which had in the interim acquired Sunesys.

Under the deal, Boston will have end-to-end control of the network for up to 30 years—and the new private sector fiber capabilities will mean not only greater opportunity for private ISPs to extend their networks, but also the efficiencies and reduced disruption of a single major fiber deployment serving multiple users, including both the City and the carrier market. And all this has been accomplished at relatively modest cost, with a significant return to Boston on its investment, both with respect to City broadband needs and to enhancing broadband services more generally.

Published: Friday, January 18, 2019 by CTC Technology & Energy