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Hillsboro, Ore. Rejects Naysayers and Pushing Ahead With $50 Gigabit Public Broadband

Three years after Hillboro’s city council accepted the recommendation of a consultant that warned the city away from running its own residential fiber network, local officials have changed their mind and plan to extend the city’s institutional fiber network to homes and businesses, offering affordable $10 a month internet access, as well as gigabit speed for $50 a month.

The Oregonian reports Hillsboro Mayor Steve Calloway wants to move fiber back on the agenda because recent experiences in other western cities with public broadband networks found a much higher buy-in by local residents, with up to 50% willing to ditch Comcast, CenturyLink, Frontier and other providers in favor of fiber to the home service. A recent “conservative” estimate expected 36% of Hillsboro residents would sign up if given the chance. Ongoing complaints about poor customer service from Frontier Communications, the area’s phone company, only increased support for the public broadband initiative.

In 2015, a consultant hired to study the feasibility of offering public broadband in Hillsboro, the fifth largest city in Oregon, recommended against it, which caused the city council to shelve the project. Uptown Services said Hillsboro would have to spend around $66 million for what it felt would be a “marginally viable” fiber to the home network expected to grab only a 28% share of a market dominated by Comcast.

Despite the cost, more than 77% of respondents to a phone survey held at the time were interested in switching to the city’s municipal fiber network, if it was priced at least 10% less than the competition. Hillsboro’s fiber aspirations face significant cost challenges other communities don’t, because 80% of buildings in Hillsboro are served by buried cables, which cost much more to install over aerial cable strung between utility poles.

 

Hillsboro is a rapidly growing community, with plans to develop 8,000 new homes in South Hillsboro that could eventually house 20,000 people. The new housing construction offers a unique and affordable opportunity to place underground fiber optic cables in the same trenches already dug for electrical, cable, and telephone service.

The city plans to start the project by running fiber into lower-income areas of the Southwest Hillsboro/Shute Par area, to offer affordable access to residents for as little as $10 a month. More affluent customers will be able to select gigabit service for $50 a month — cheaper than what Comcast and Frontier offer.

To keep the impact on the city budget reasonable, Hillsboro city council is being asked to allocate $4 million annually for fiber rollouts starting in 2019, with an equal amount each year through 2024. City engineers estimate it will take a decade to completely wire the community of 92,000, located just west of Portland.

 







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