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Citizen's View: Why broadband is a good investment

There is a strong consensus on our City Council that Lake Oswego would benefit from having high-speed internet access delivered over fiber-optic cable. Studies of historical data transmission speeds show that the need for speed has increased by 50 percent each year. This rate is expected to continue as technology inevitably evolves. This demand will soon surpass what the existing copper cable infrastructure can support.

In fact, many Clackamas County public agencies recognize this and have already installed fiber in their facilities; the Lake Oswego School District will be installing fiber in school facilities as well. What is missing is access to broadband fiber for all of our residents and businesses. Comcast, CenturyLink and Frontier have some fiber to the home installed, but it is expensive (up to $300 per month), not available to most of the community, and with no commitment to build a fiber network that would serve the entire community.

I have been part of a 10-person Citizens Broadband Committee studying various public and private options. Our criteria were that any fiber service must be affordable and available to all residences and businesses. Having reviewed several proposals, we concluded that the public-private approach submitted by Symmetrical Networks was the best way to achieve those objectives. Although the name Symmetrical is new, the participants are not. Symmetrical has brought together a team of partners who have built municipal fiber networks throughout the U.S.

Fiber is not a medium that will be obsolete any time soon. Fiber, which replaces copper wire, is capable of transmitting speeds much greater than 1 gigabit per second today, and progressively faster in the future as equipment on either end of the fiber is upgraded. We have also heard the argument that wireless technology is replacing fiber. Any technology professional will tell you this is not true. In fact, significantly more fiber will be required to support the next evolution of wireless technologies, such as 5G, which require unobstructed lines of sight. Due to the suburban, hilly and heavily foliaged traits of Lake Oswego, high-speed wireless capabilities will be severely limited in our community.

What about those who have said that we would be 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. The city’s role is to guarantee the first 35 percent of subscribers, and the project won’t start until that pre-signup rate has been achieved. Other municipal fiber networks in Oregon are achieving sign-up rates of approximately 60 percent, and a survey conducted by a third-party marketing group found that almost 80 percent of Lake Oswego residents would like to see the city offer a fiber network.

Why does the city have to backstop the payments at all? In addition to the city having significant control over the pricing and service levels of the network, at the end of the lease term Lake Oswego will own the entire upgraded network outright, a significant asset. We won’t get these benefits without city participation.

If indeed we want high-speed internet service at an affordable price for all of our community, then voting for Measure 3-491 provides support to our City Council to make that happen.

Duke Castle is a Lake Oswego resident and a member of the city’s Citizen Broadband Committee.