The City of Benicia is taking another try at priming the pump for upgraded industrial and commercial class broadband infrastructure and service. A request for proposals was posted this week, backed by up to $750,000 of city money. The objectives include…
Specific service proposals for the Benicia Industrial Park and the adjacent Arsenal area, which, among other things, is being developed as a home for high tech start-ups.
Generally, improving availability of high quality managed services and unbundled network elements, such as dark fiber, throughout the City.
Options for meeting the connectivity needs of the City’s internal IT network.
Free public WiFi access, particularly in commercial and industrial areas.
A more competitive market for broadband service in Benicia.
The City isn’t necessarily looking for a single provider that can achieve all of its objectives and is leaving the door open to working with two or more companies, if that seems to be the better course. The RFP is designed to encourage responses from as many qualified companies as possible – a maximum length of 10 pages is specified for the proposal, not counting any back-up material that might be included in an appendix, although additional information may be requested during the evaluation process.
There’s no particular business or partnership model specified, although the City took care to highlight, in bold letters, that “its preference is for a model that minimizes the City’s ongoing role in the project while ensuring that sufficient public benefits are generated by its investment, including, particularly, achievement of its economic development goals“.
The City of Benicia is working with Lit San Leandro LLC (LSL) to bring a gigabit-class fiber network to the Benicia Industrial Park and the adjacent Arsenal area. That’s the top line from a status report I gave to the Benicia City Council this evening.
Benicia issued a request for proposals last year, asking interested service providers to submit ideas for delivering industrial and commercial-grade broadband service. Among the resources the City put on the table was $750,000. The most attractive proposal – for a full fiber network – was submitted by LSL. Since then, both the City and LSL have been working on solving key challenges, such as how to connect the local network to long haul fiber and Tier 1 data centers.
LSL identified several potential solutions, and is working on more detailed plans. Parallel to that, the City and LSL will be negotiating a formal contract, which will be brought back to the City Council for approval, likely in the next two or three months. After that, LSL can begin construction.
The preliminary network design includes a loop through the central core of the Benicia Industrial Park, with spurs serving the Arsenal area just to the south and the periphery of the park.
I helped the City develop the RFP, evaluate the proposals and get to the point where a tentative agreement is in place with LSL. The work was based on a report I did last year for the City, which looked at alternatives for meeting the broadband needs of current BIP tenants and businesses that might be considering moving there.
The City of Benicia has earmarked $750,000 for investment in the Project. The City has not specified how this money will be used or what consideration it will receive in return. It is up to each respondent to propose such terms, however the City retains full and final discretion as to the terms it will accept.
The City is asking respondents to address five topics that are key to its objectives…
1. Availability of managed services (e.g. commercial grade DSL, T–1 or OC–3 class circuits with or without Internet connectivity). 2. Availability of unbundled broadband network elements (e.g. dark fiber, wholesale Internet bandwidth, long haul interconnects). 3. Quality of Service (QoS) standards, including reliability, and a sustainable means of guaranteeing those standards over time. 4. Development of a competitive market for broadband services and facilities within the project area, or other means of guaranteeing competitive access and pricing for the long term. 5. Economic sustainability of business and partnership models proposed for the Project area, including particularly ensuring that the Project will continue to operate as intended over time without additional financial contributions from the City.
There’s a pre-bid meeting scheduled for 21 October 2013, and proposals are due on 14 November 2013. Full details, including all the legal and administrative requirements, are in the RFP. Anyone interested in the project should rely on that document and not on this or any other blog post. I’m a consultant to the City on this project, so I won’t comment beyond what’s in the RFP, except to say that anyone with a potential solution to offer is encouraged to submit a proposal.
Tellus Venture Associates evaluated the broadband facilities available in and around the Benicia Industrial Park. I presented our analysis last week, recommending that the city explore a public-private partnership, with both incumbent and competitive carriers, to build high capacity infrastructure, including links to Tier 1 exchanges. $750,000, previously earmarked by the council, sweetens the pot for the project.
A few high tech companies have trickled into the Benicia Industrial Park in recent years, but many others have passed it by because broadband service is limited to whatever AT&T’s ageing lines can support. Comcast, despite what it tells the public (and the California Public Utilities Commission), is missing in action. Some companies have solved their connectivity problems with custom wireless or wireline solutions, but those are expensive and only capable of addressing specific needs.
High capacity, long haul fiber routes bracket the park, coming in from the north and east and converging on the Benicia-Martinez bridge, which provides a route over the Carquinez Strait. This legacy industrial area is just a splice point away from the twenty-first century.
The next step is to finalise a request for proposal (or similar) and see what interest it might generate amongst telecoms companies. Watch for it.
I was fortunate enough to be invited as one of the opening speakers. My assignment was to give some background on efforts in the Bay Area and around California to develop our economy by developing broadband infrastructure:
Here in the Bay Area, we are surrounded by the fattest Internet pipes on the planet. We have the world’s greatest concentration of innovative, high technology – revolutionary – talent, companies and jobs.
But we’re just getting started.
Most communities in the Bay Area, most companies and people, can’t touch those fat broadband pipes yet. That’s how it was here, in San Leandro, when the Lit San Leandro project began two years ago. The main lines of the Internet run right through the middle of town. But there was no local access, no onramp here.
Businesses struggled to get any kind of Internet access, affordable or not. Upgrading broadband infrastructure in older commercial and industrial districts is not a priority for incumbent service providers.
One of those businesses was OSIsoft. They’re here today to tell their own story, so I won’t spoil it. But Pat Kennedy saw a solution and worked with the City of San Leandro to implement it. Pat and the Lit San Leandro team made it happen. The City, though, deserves a lot of credit too. The business development team recognized the opportunity and worked across departments and with the City Council to find ways to say yes to it.
That’s the key. Recognizing the opportunity and embracing it. Part of that job is making sure that everyone’s interests are acknowledged and protected. It’s also to move ahead without getting bogged down in the process and move ahead with a clear view of the benefits for all. And that’s what the City of San Leandro did.
Thanks to some far-sighted work by legislators in Sacramento – more of that gets done than commonly recognized – the California Public Utilities Commission created a network of regional broadband consortia across the state. In just a year, those community based groups, groups that pull together public agencies, educational institutions, non-profits and private companies with capital to invest, those groups have generated dozens of new broadband projects.
The East Bay Broadband Consortium is one example. I recently worked with them to assess connectivity in this region. We developed a grading system and came up with a city by city and county by county report card. Two things stood out.
First, in most communities, businesses need help to get the broadband speed and quality at the affordable prices that our centers of high tech excellence take for granted. Whether it’s finding incentives for incumbent carriers to upgrade existing facilities, or partnering with entrepreneurs to build new gigabit fiber networks, or even dipping a toe into the municipal broadband business, cities have a vital role to play and valuable resources to offer. Not the least of which is leadership. As we have here in San Leandro.
Second, the cities with the highest grades are the ones with the deepest history of competition between telecommunications service providers. Central Contra Costa County cities scored A’s and B’s because they have three carriers that compete with each other in a number of ways, including investing in new fiber optic lines, putting private capital into upgraded broadband infrastructure.
Here in Alameda County, the cities with the highest grades are Berkeley and the City of Alameda. A private company, Sonic, has invested in building competitive broadband facilities in Berkeley. In Alameda, the city took the lead, built its own system, spurred fierce competition and stepped out of the business when the time was ripe. The infrastructure that was built by the city and its competitors is still there, still serving the residents of Alameda, still providing homes and businesses with some of the best Internet service available in the East Bay.
Other cities have followed their lead. The City of Benicia is working to turn what was a major twentieth century industrial park into a twenty first century job engine by bringing in better broadband infrastructure. In Oakland, there’s an ongoing effort to bridge the divide between businesses and homes that have superior Internet access and those that don’t.
It’s no coincidence that the best and cheapest broadband access in the Bay Area is in Palo Alto and Santa Clara. As new industries – a new economy – grew, those cities built municipal fiber optic networks. As businesses have grown and created jobs, local fiber optic networks have grown to serve them. Resulting in even more business and more jobs. We’re starting to see the same here in San Leandro. And that’s just the beginning.
Chairman Genachowski, for gigabit cities, the future is right here.