Watsonville growing economy and cash with muni dark fiber

“We want to be able to service other business”, said Bob Berry, public works project manager for the City of Watsonville. “We think we want to turn this into an enterprise fund”.

The city is installing dark fiber between key public buildings and, incidentally, through core business areas of Watsonville. The project was launched after Charter Communications raised the price it was charging for similar connections from free to $150,000 a year, a move made possible by its shift from local to statewide cable franchising. Besides supporting the city’s internal network, plans are in the works to generate revenue – and stimulate local businesses – by leasing dark fiber and conduit space to interested service providers.

The first phase of the project involves stitching together existing city-owned conduit. Because Watsonville began specifically identifying and routinely mapping potential broadband assets, such as traffic signal conduit, several years ago, building a 4-mile fiber network only required installing about a mile of new underground duct work. The work will cost about $200,000, less than the $300,000 that the city originally estimated. It’ll begin in January.

Berry was speaking at a broadband deployment workshop organised by the Central Coast Broadband Consortium (CCBC) earlier this month. Public works professionals from other Monterey Bay area cities and executives from local Internet service providers quizzed him on construction details and operational plans. Particularly interesting to the ISPs was the decision to put fiber access points every three hundred feet, at least along the new sections of the route. The closer together those points are, the less it’ll cost, on average, to hook up businesses along the way.

Watsonville is a city of about 50,000 people in southern Santa Cruz County. Its neighbor to the north, the City of Santa Cruz, isn’t much bigger but there’s a whopping difference in median household income: $63,000 versus $46,000 in Watsonville. Improving broadband infrastructure – for business and government – is a high priority and seen as a critical resource for closing that gap. The City of Watsonville has been an entrepreneurial broadband champion, serving as the lead agency for the CCBC and developing a broadband mapping and analysis center that serves the region.