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Citizen's View: Time spent studying a city-owned fiber network has not been wasted

Over the past couple of months, there have been numerous comments about the possibility of a public/private partnership to provide fiber broadband service to our residents and businesses.

We have explored this partnership because of our continued efforts to provide the best services to our citizens at a reasonable cost. Our recent market survey showed that a majority of our citizens wanted the City to provide a fiber network with speeds of up to 1 gigabit per second.

The City Council has not reached a final decision on this matter. In fact, on March 15 we voted to put the issue before our citizens for an advisory vote in November. However, I felt it appropriate to set forth some of the issues to flesh out the picture.

A big issue is the risk that technology would change and make fiber less attractive, resulting in a substantial drop in the so-called “take rate.” The main technology change put forth is a switch to wireless service, something being proposed by AT &T. But it should be noted is that there are a lot of obstacles to reliable wireless service to each location because of interference by natural and manmade obstacles such as buildings. Even more of a consideration is the fact that delivering wireless to the whole city would require hundreds of cell towers, making it almost too expensive to consider.

Next, what would be the difference in service and cost between the proposed public/private partnership and that of existing providers? Look at the service to the City: Comcast now provides 1-gigbit service to the site that serves City Hall. The charge for that is about $700 a month. The City also gets 100-megabit service to six other City sites, such as the water plant, for $360 a month per site. That means the City pays around $34,000 per year for that service, plus an additional $12,000 a year for 12 smaller facilities.

The proposal the City was considering was to provide 1-gigabit service to each residence and business (including City Hall and all other City facilities) for $60 per month per site. And it’s important to note that Google would not necessarily provide the same service to each neighborhood, and would not provide it to businesses or public facilities.

There is the philosophical issue that the City should not be in the business of providing a service that can be provided by private companies that would be assuming all the risks involved. I ordinarily agree wholeheartedly with that philosophy. In this case, however, whoever puts in the fiber service will likely be in a monopoly position, so there will be little competition. Based on my experience and that of others I have spoken with, that results in high initial prices and regular price increases. The proposal we considered would not have that kind of result.

A public/private partnership to provide broadband service is not something that is going to happen in Lake Oswego without a lot more examination. But the idea deserves serious consideration, and the time spent in examining it has not been wasted. As councilors, our primary goal is to do what is right and fiscally prudent for Lake Oswego.

Kent Studebaker is the mayor of Lake Oswego.