LA isn't playing with a full broadband deck

11 November 2013 by Steve Blum
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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.