At the Tuesday, March 20 City Council meeting, the city awarded a bid to SiFi Networks to construct a fiber optic network that will reach every home and business in the city. SiFi Networks was the only company to respond to an RFP issued by the city.
After a conversation with Commissioner Madigan and a brief review of the SiFi website (http://sifinetworks.com/) I have some “impressions.” I use that word because the scope and nature of what is being proposed is both exciting and overwhelming at the same time.
The city has awarded a bid to SiFi Networks to deploy a citywide fiber optic network. As many people know, fiber optics radically increases the speed of telecommunications.
It is my understanding that SiFi, along with its partners, has developed a rapid deployment method that lays underground cable with minimal impact on infrastructure. The basic concept is that the city grants them the use of its right of ways and in return SiFi deploys and operates a fiber network that covers the city. As I understand it, most of our city’s streets are right of ways owned by the city.
Apparently, two other municipalities have some sort of agreements with SiFi. They are Fullerton, CA and East Hartford CT. Neither has reached the operational level yet.
As I understand it, SiFi would charge vendors for the use of their network. The theory is that a variety of companies would use the network to provide web services to customers. So theoretically, Spectrum, ComCast, Charter, etc. would compete for residential customers to use their products. Similarly, phone companies would vie to provide telecommunications. I am assuming that local firms here in the city that need special secure and high speed connections between offices would similarly pay.
If I am correct (always a risky assumption) one of the key questions would be how much SiFi would be charging for the use of their network because those costs would have to be passed on to the customers using their services. I do not know if they would require exclusive rights for networking the city or if other companies might also deploy competing networks. Knowing technology, I would assume that over time the cost of such deployments might drop. There is also the possibility that the satellite industry might, over time, develop high enough speeds and bandwidth to compete.
Central to this would be a number of questions. How many vendors would be attracted to compete in order to keep costs down? What protections would the city have that the charges by SiFi are not problematic both initially and in the future?
My sense in talking to Commissioner Madigan is that she is excited by the potential this has for both the residents and businesses of this city but that she is keenly aware of the complexity of what is being considered. She has indicated that while the city has awarded the initial bid, should the city fail to come up with an actual contract that protects the interests of the city, the city faces no liability from walking away.
The city will be assisted in its negotiations with SiFi by New York State Technological Enterprise Corporation. NYSTEC is a not for profit corporation providing IT consulting services to public institutions in the state. https://www.nystec.com/
So while it is exciting that Commissioner Madigan has started this ball rolling, in a conversation I had with her, she made it clear that the city is in the very early stages of this process. Much work needs to be done to identify and address the complex issues of how this will be implemented, how it will be maintained, and how its costs might impact the residents and businesses of the city.
I assume that Spectrum will be threatened by this project and that they will aggressively identify potential problems with it.
For Immediate Release: March 21, 2017 From the Office of Commissioner of Finance, City of Saratoga Springs, Michele Madigan
Contact: Michele.Madigan@Saratoga-Springs.org or 518-526-9377
City of Saratoga Springs awards fiber project bid to SiFi Networks:
Aims to bring fiber access to every home and business in the city
Saratoga Springs, NY – During last night’s City Council meeting, the City of Saratoga Springs awarded the broadband infrastructure project bid to SiFi Networks. The goal of the broadband infrastructure project is to improve access to high-speed internet for Saratoga Springs residents and businesses. SiFi Networks, which intends to oversee the financing, design, construction, and operation of a city-wide fiber optic network, plans to partner with telecommunications experts such as Nokia and Adcomm.
Madigan stated: “This project has the potential to be a game changer in how the City can improve the online experience of residents and enable businesses to access technology previously thought unavailable. From an economic development standpoint, a gigabit-speed fiber optic network would be a massive driver of efficiency and productivity, and it would provide cutting-edge infrastructure that allows the businesses that drive today’s economy to thrive in Saratoga Springs.”
The next step for the City will be finalizing a contract with SiFi Networks. Given the scope of the project, every department in City Hall will have input in the process. The City will also be engaging with NYSTEC, which acts as the City’s IT consultant, and the Saratoga Springs Smart City Commission, which Commissioner Madigan created in February 2016, for additional input.
Broadband infrastructure is one of the focuses of the Saratoga Springs Smart City Roadmap. According to Madigan: “Connectivity is key. Internet access at globally competitive speeds is no longer an optional luxury. In other words, broadband has become an essential resource — no different than any other utility — for residents, businesses, service providers, and government. For Saratoga Springs to become a smarter city, we must do more to make the internet accessible at faster speeds throughout the city.”
About SiFi Networks: SiFi Networks is a global developer and operator of fiber optic networks, enabling service providers to deliver dozens of next-generation applications, including superfast internet, video, and phone. http://sifinetworks.com/
About the Smart City Commission: In February 2016, Saratoga Springs Commissioner of Finance Michele Madigan announced the formation of the Saratoga Springs Smart City Commission comprising a diverse community membership, with the goal of helping set Saratoga Springs on a path to becoming a smarter city. https://www.saratoga-springs.org/2288/Smart-City-Commission
About NYSTEC: NYSTEC is an independent, not-for-profit technology advisor headquartered in Rome, NY, with offices in Albany and New York City. A smart city technology leader, NYSTEC worked with the City of Saratoga Springs and the Smart City Commission on the Smart City Project, which culminated with the publication of the Saratoga Springs Smart City Roadmap. https://www.nystec.com/
Michele Madigan. Commissioner of Finance, City of Saratoga Springs