Village broadband pilot program slated to begin
- Published: February 4, 2022
Years ago, a small group of villagers started conversations about offering Wi-Fi as a public utility; in the coming months, Yellow Springs will take steps to make that vision a reality as the Village pilots a broadband program at 250 locations throughout town.
At its Tuesday, Jan. 18, Village Council meeting, Council unanimously approved a fee schedule for the Village Broadband Pilot Program. Village Manager Josué Salmerón said that the implementation of this project, which will run through the end of 2022, will help serve individual households and businesses as they continue to navigate work, school and daily life through the ongoing pandemic.
“We are responding to a challenge in our community,” Salmerón said in an interview after the resolution passed. “We wouldn’t embark on such a program if there wasn’t such a critical need for it.”
The pilot program, funded through a $300,000 grant from Broadband Ohio, which the Village received in the fall, will provide the cash needed to run the fiber to homes and apartments in targeted areas, in addition to the free public Wi-Fi currently available throughout the downtown business corridor.
While the downtown Wi-Fi is free, this pilot program will come at a cost to villagers: $45 a month for 300 megabits per second, or Mbps, and $65 a month for 1,000 Mbps/one gigabit per second, or Gbps. The Village will also offer discounted services for families who qualify for the FCC’s Lifeline program, which lowers the cost of phone and internet services for low-income consumers.
“The discount is available at both speed tiers,” Salmerón said. “So an individual could sign up for the 1,000 Mbps speed tier at $65 and be eligible for the $20 discount for a net cost of $45 per month.”
Salmerón said he hopes that villagers will find the offerings to be superior to those of larger telecommunication providers in the area. For example, Spectrum offers a package in the Yellow Springs area for 400 Mbps, but the cost begins at $69.99 per month for the first 12 months. For one Gbps, the beginning rate is $109.99 per month.
For this phase of the pilot program, Salmerón worked with representatives from MVECA, the Yellow Springs Community Foundation and Yellow Springs School District to determine where services should be provided.
“We are working with customers to bring those lines where it makes sense,” he said, specifically identifying Hawthorne Apartments, Lawson Place Apartments and the Corry Street apartments.
According to Salmerón, when he asked for Community Foundation and school leadership input, their suggested maps overlapped, identifying the same areas of need.
In the past months, technicians have been installing the infrastructure to extend fiber to individual homes and businesses throughout the village. These areas were split into zones, each zone having proximity to the fiber backbone.
“The zones follow the fiber path in the village,” said Salmerón. “This allowed us to hit higher density areas and go across town.”
In anticipation of the program, Salmerón and Scott Fife, who has worked to implement a village broadband through Springs-Net, identified 410 potential locations within the 12 zones. Of those 410 locations, 250 will be able to join the pilot program.
“We will be sending out letters inviting residents to sign up in the coming weeks,” Salmerón said.
“We will sign people up on a first-come, first-served basis until we hit 250 customers.”
Once customers are signed up for the program, a technician will schedule a time to run fiber into individual homes and businesses. Each individual will receive a router with a network name and password, and the technician will hook the router up to the fiber cable. Once that’s completed, individuals will set up their home networks.
“We wanted to avoid charging an installation fee,” said Salmerón. “We want to rely on local technicians to service the hardware to keep everything as cost-effective as possible.”
Salmerón said that he is scheduling meetings with local computer technicians who could potentially provide services, such as customizing home networks, for Village broadband users. Customers will also be able to phone a hotline to troubleshoot problems with the fiber.
“We are designing our equipment in a way that the customer service representatives can ping individual routers to determine where the problem is,” he said.
In addition to providing higher speeds at lower cost, Salmerón said the Village broadband utility would ensure a higher level of privacy for its users.
“We are committed to privacy and net neutrality,” he said. “We won’t be selling anyone’s data, and we will only track what is required by law.”
Looking ahead, Salmerón and Thor Sage of MVECA are hoping to continue building out the infrastructure so that the whole village can utilize the broadband service. With the approval of Council, Salmerón applied for a $3 million grant through the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, or NTIA, in fall 2021. If the Village is awarded the grant, it would cover the cost of extending fiber to all 1,800 residential and business locations in the village.
“If we receive the grant, we expect to build out the infrastructure in 18 months,” Salmerón said.
The NTIA, which was supposed to announce the grant recipients at the end of 2021, has pushed back the announcement to the first or second quarter of 2022. Salmerón said that, in addition to providing infrastructure to the village, the grant would allow broadband to extend to 48 locations in Miami Township.
“Because the trustees have supported our grant requests, we want to be able to provide services to people living and working in the township,” he said.
In all, Salmerón said that he is excited to continue the work of bringing broadband to Yellow Springs.
“The pandemic has shown how critical internet services are and how much we are lacking in this region and throughout the country,” he said. “I’m grateful that the Village will be able to provide this service.”