Tag Archives: LA

LA asks for gigabit fiber and free service, but keeps its crown jewel off the table

FacebookTwitterGoogle+PinterestLinkedInRedditEmail

Just the facts. Assets, not so much.

The City of Los Angeles has taken the next step in its quest to have gigabit class fiber optic service available to every home and business. An official request for information (RFI) has been released for the Los Angeles Community Broadband Network (LACBN), with a 30 June 2014 deadline for responses. It’s only a preliminary step towards formally requesting proposals for the project. It’s also optional – not responding won’t keep anyone out of the running when the time comes.

At some level, the city wants Internet access available to all residents for free. The RFI points to free service and hardware offered elsewhere (without giving examples) and states that the network should ensure that “minimum levels of services and equipment are available to all”.

Otherwise, the objectives are…

To the extent possible, every residence and business in Los Angeles should be passed by a fiber network that is willing and able to provide services to those homes and residences at competitive prices. Ideally, the network should offer Internet access to residences at 1 Gbps up and downstream, and similar or higher capacity services to businesses. It is the City’s preference that the network bring fiber to the premises, but given developments in wireless technology, the City is also open to allowing applicants to provide services to the home through a combination of wireless and fiber technologies — provided the network performance is similar. Existing 4G systems, however, would not be considered an adequate substitute for the LACBN.

No money is on the table. And critically, neither is there any particular access offered to the extensive electric infrastructure – 540,000 city utility poles, 295,000 joint poles, conduits and 525 miles of fiber – that’s owned by the city’s municipal electric utility. Instead, the RFI advises that “there are processes available through which entities should be able to obtain access to space on [utility poles]” and “should an entity be interested in using [city-owned] fiber, an agreement with the [Los Angeles Department of Power and Water] would be required”.

As I’ve written before, the LADPW infrastructure is the city’s crown jewel: with it, the city would have a compelling offer and leverage to demand the benefits it wants. But without it, the RFI is merely aspirational. Of course, the city could change tack after the responses come in. It would be politically and bureaucratically messy to include LADPW infrastructure, but it would demonstrate a serious intent to produce something other than a photo opportunity.

The specs also include requirements for network and consumer equipment neutrality. The preference is for an open network “that allows for multiple service providers and equal access to fiber infrastructure at reasonable wholesale cost”.

The city is offering to streamline permits, make some city property available and buy service from the network. The city does include a lot of good information in the RFI itself, and in the attachments – that alone is a sign of good faith. It’s all available on the city’s website, of course, but I’ve posted the documents on my server too and links are below.

UPDATE 15 May 2014: Minor change, deadline for questions extended to 27 May 2014

Request for information, Los Angeles Community Broadband Network

LA Department of Finance’s database of businesses (65 MB)

LA Rec and Parks database of locations

Shape files of LA city streets

Shape files of LA city street lights

Map showing LA median household income

Original LACBN city staff report, 3 September 2013

LA isn’t playing with a full broadband deck

FacebookTwitterGoogle+PinterestLinkedInRedditEmail

Last week the LA city council endorsed a plan, written by the city’s IT chief, Steve Reneker, and sponsored by freshman councilman Bob Blumenfield to entice private investors into providing ubiquitous broadband coverage to 3.8 million people over nearly 500 square miles.

The city isn’t offering much, though. A ten year deal to handle some of the city’s internal IT and telecoms business is a possibility. So is access to relatively minor city assets – light poles and buildings were mentioned – and maybe a break on permit and approval fees. Chump change.

LA’s truly valuable broadband asset is off limits. In the course of explaining the plan, Reneker made it clear that the city’s electric infrastructure won’t be part of the deal…

Some of those services are things like managing our fiber network that is non-LA DWP, some of those might be our cell expenditures, some of those might some managed services for other things that we do.


DWP knows about fat pipes.

LA DWP is the department of power and water, the city’s municipal electric utility which has thousands of miles of plant that would be golden to anyone stringing fiber cables or hanging WiFi or cellular access points. It’s a semi-autonomous operation that the city classifies as proprietary, charged with providing a service to the public and generating cash for the city’s general fund.

Involving DWP in a muni broadband project would be complicated and risky, but it would demonstrate that the city is serious about pursuing a broadband project. Building a citywide fiber and wireless system in LA is a huge job. The relatively few companies qualified to tackle it won’t be interested in fronting all the cash and taking all the risk. But the prospect of gaining access to DWP’s utility poles, conduits, right of ways, easements and customer accounts would get their attention. It would be the difference between a slim chance of success and none.