A photo of Bill Fenton of Always Underground Inc. presenting a citywide internet infrastructure proposal. at the July 18, 2023 Cleveland City Council Utilities Committee meeting.
Bill Fenton of Always Underground Inc. presents a citywide internet infrastructure proposal. Credit: Cleveland City Council YouTube

Covered by Documenter Carolyn Cooper (notes).

Forest City to Fiber City

The city wants to give privately funded SiFi Networks access to city-owned streets, sidewalks and more. The intended outcome? A citywide network of underground fiber-optic cables for high-speed internet. The committee asked questions about the proposal but did not advance the legislation. Council is set to revisit it in September, Committee Chair Brian Kazy said. The city would not have to pay for the installation. SiFi Networks would cover the initial cost, which it estimates is in the ballpark of $500 million according to its presentation.

‘Conquering the digital divide’

The initiative would be “a key element of conquering the digital divide,” said Austin Davis, a senior policy advisor with the city. He said this technology is the future, noting that a majority of Clevelanders do not have access to it.

80-year agreement

Some committee members expressed concern about the length of the proposed agreement. It is set for an initial 30-year term plus five 10-year automatic renewals. That would be hard for council to accept, Kazy said.

‘They probably wouldn’t’

SiFi Networks charges internet service providers (ISPs) a fee to use its cables, President Scott Bradshaw said. The company would not install without at least one ISP committed to using the network. Council Member Mike Polensek asked presenters why Spectrum or AT&T would use SiFi Networks’ underground technology if they already hook up to telephone poles. “They probably wouldn’t,” said Bill Fenton of Always Underground Inc., SiFi’s Midwest contractor.

Read more from Documenter Carolyn Cooper:

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Assignment Editor (he/him)
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