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Citizen's View: Bringing broadband fiber to LO: a good community investment

CASTLEI have served on the Citizens Broadband Committee over the past several months. As a former Hewlett Packard manager, I am comfortable with technology but had a lot to learn to understand the benefits and risks of the City’s proposed fiber project. I started out neutral, but now see that this is a tremendous opportunity for our community that we shouldn’t let slip away. I credit my fellow committee members for helping bring about that shift in my thinking.

This committee was comprised of very competent Lake Oswego citizens. One of our members manages Intel’s Cloud Server system. Another oversees information technology for Bonneville. They explained that fiber is the electronic highway of the future. Just as copper wire has been the medium of information transmission for more than 100 years, fiber will be the new medium capable of transmitting data at the speed of light over long distances, something that wireless and copper cable systems are incapable of exceeding. It is a technology that won’t be replaced for decades.

So why not wait for Comcast, CenturyLink or Google to do it? In fact, all three entities declined to respond to the City’s request for proposal. Symmetrical Networks has partnered with OFS and Calix, mature organizations which were chosen specifically because of their experience. Only the name Symmetrical is new. The participants are not.

What about those who have said that we are liable for $71 million over 30 years? That figure is misleading. It represents what would happen if the system were built and absolutely no one used it over 30 years. But that risk is mitigated by the fact that the project won’t even start until 35 percent of the community commits to sign up with a minimal deposit.

Didn’t a market research study indicate that 35 percent is the best take rate expected for the fiber network? No. The Pivot study said that 79 percent of respondents would like to see the City undertake this project and 61 percent said they would “definitely” or were “very likely” to subscribe at $59.95 per month or if their total bundled cost remained the same. The lower 35-percent take rate suggested by the study was the research company’s guess as to how many respondents will actually sign up. Fortunately, we have real-world data from other municipal networks showing take rates in excess of 50-60 percent occurring in the first three years.

Won’t Comcast undercut our monthly rate of $59.95? Experience shows this is highly unlikely. In the few places where Comcast offers gigabit service, they charge $300 per month. Symmetrical, on the other hand, has agreed to price protection by insuring that future price increases will never exceed the Consumer Price Index. It is highly unlikely that Comcast, CenturyLink or Google would ever agree to that.

If one only reads opinions in The Lake Oswego Review, you would think that very few people in the community would support this project. The research strongly suggests the opposite. Three surveys show overwhelming support for this project. In fact, in the comments at the end of the fall online survey, more than 100 people were pleading with the City to do this.

We shouldn’t lightly dismiss those voices, because many represent the young professionals and entrepreneurs — like those on our Citizens Broadband Committee — that we want to attract to Lake Oswego.

Duke Castle is a Lake Oswego resident and a co-founder of the Lake Oswego Sustainability Network.