City makes strides on fiber Internet

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—Courtesy photo The city of Sandpoint has been installing fiber optic cable underground during road work projects for years. Each conduit holds 144 strands of fiber. City Hall is expected to be "lit up" by the end of September.

SANDPOINT — The city has been installing a fiber optic network underground for at least five years, and City Hall should be "lit up" with the faster, more reliable Internet by the end of September.

City Administrator Jennifer Stapleton said the city has been installing the infrastructure for a fiber network during road construction projects over the years, which has "significantly" lowered the cost of installation. The city has spent a total of around $250,000 installing the infrastructure for the first phase of the project, which runs from the city's water treatment plant and throughout the downtown area to City Hall.

Stapleton said the city has two main goals with the project. The first is to get the city connected so they can deliver a higher level of service to the residents through its website and emergency communications, and the second goal is economic development.

"Economic development to us means improved service, enhanced services, for our existing businesses and for businesses looking to relocate to the community," Stapleton said. One of the common questions is what can they get for bandwidth, what's their ability to communicate?"

She said the second element of economic development is to enhance service to the residents of Sandpoint.

Stapleton and Jack Maytum, the city's consultant from Design Nine, spent the week meeting with representatives from the county, Idaho Transportation Department, mayors of the surrounding cities and the school district. Maytum said the county is working on second phase of the project because the infrastructure will eventually connect Sandpoint to Ponderay, Kootenai and Dover. He said the schools and district offices plan to be connected by July 2017.

"Our first job is to get all of this information together, do the drawings so that we can show the city what they have, what's available, where there might be gaps and tell them how much it would cost to fill the gaps so they have a very complete, redundant fiber optic network for the city and also for the region," Maytum said.

Maytum said the city installed two conduits that are two inches in diameter, and each conduit holds 144 strands of fiber. One conduit line is dedicated to administration use by the city to connect its buildings and keep services like 911 secure. The second line will be an open access network that can be leased out to private companies to provide service to businesses and residences.

"The city is not in the business of providing cable services," Maytum said. "The city is simply in the business of building the infrastructure, just like building a road."

Stapleton said the leasing of the open access network is free and open competition. She said in the midst of their many meetings this week they also spoke with several service providers in the area for the administration side of the network. 

A small startup company has been scouting Sandpoint for some time as its fourth city nationwide to provide fiber Internet service to local businesses and residents.

Ting, a subsidiary of the Internet service company Tucows, recently announced Sandpoint as its next destination. Adam Eisner, director of networks at Ting, said the company is ready to bring gigabit Internet to the area. Ting has been working with the city to leverage from the infrastructure the city is providing, he added.

"Our intent and hope in Sandpoint is to take advantage of that to build into the various parts of the Sandpoint area," Eisner said.

Eisner said he is unsure when Ting will be in the area, but hopes to have areas of the city lit by early next year. He said Ting aims to provide service in the cities surrounding Sandpoint as well.

Ting has three service plans to choose from. One is the 5/5 plan that includes five megabits for upload and five megabits for downloads, which Eisner said is more of an introductory speed for $19 per month. But the "crazy fast" plans include 1,000 megabits  a gigabit, of speed for both uploading and downloading. For homes the cost is $89 per month, and $139 per month for businesses.

He said one thing that is unique is there is no data caps or contracts — everything is month-to-month.

"What you see is what you get, which has been really popular because it's very straightforward and very transparent," Eisner said.

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