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City strikes deal with international fiberoptic network developer
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City strikes deal with international fiberoptic network developer

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The future is coming to Kenosha.

An international fiber optic network developer soon will begin laying the foundation for a unique city-wide fiberoptic network that one day will support affordable high-speed internet for residents and cutting edge communication technology to run host of city services.

The City Council this week night voted 16-1 on an agreement that will allow SiFi Networks to privately fund and develop the fiberoptic network over a two-year period, transforming Kenosha into a FiberCity™, home to SiFi Networks’ trademarked universal fiberoptic network.

The network would support a number of Smart City applications that more efficiently manage a wide range of services from public works to e-health.

According to the agreement, SiFi Networks is responsible for 100% of the $90 million to up to $100 million in project costs. Engineering and planning will begin immediately, with fiber mapping and construction rolling out over the winter and into spring 2021.

“Kenosha is committed to its growth and evolution,” Mayor John M. Antaramian said in news release. “This initiative will elevate our city to new heights and anchor our existing plans to develop Kenosha into an efficient Smart City. Additionally, our standing as a FiberCity™ will ensure that high-speed internet service is available across the entire city, so that all Kenosha residents have affordable access to it.”

“FiberCity™” modelThe network will provide residents and businesses with service provider competition and product choice, which includes symmetrical gigabit speed internet and high-capacity fiber to support the Smart City initiatives.

“As Kenosha begins the process of reinventing itself again, this new technology will help the city use the fiber to drive smart city solutions that benefit both citizens and business, while allowing an additional economic development incentive through open access broadband competition,” said Ald. David Bogdala, the council president.

“Our FiberCity™ model is very much aligned with the city’s ambitions and we look forward to working with them to realize their vision,” said Scott Bradshaw, president of SiFi Networks America. “Kenosha FiberCity™ will deliver high speed internet, choice and be a platform for SmartCity applications.”

SiFi Networks, which has offices in Orange County and Los Angeles County, Calif. as well as Morristown, N.J., and London, has previously developed FiberCity™ networks in Fullerton, Calif., Salem, Mass. and Upstate New York.

Some concerns

Bradshaw answered questions for nearly an hour Monday night before the council approved the agreement.

Among the concerns were how SiFi would go about installing the fiberoptics while “micro trenching” the system in residential neighborhoods. Ald. Jan Michalski wondered whether the company would essentially put things back the way they found them, matching materials from concrete to grass.

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“Once you start cutting through people’s driveways, we’re all going to be getting questions about that and we’re all going to be wanting to be able to reassure the homeowners …or the non-residential areas where the crosswalks are that would be done with like material, because we’re going to be getting an earful,” said Michalski.

Bradshaw assured him that soil, cement, asphalt and other surfaces would be “reinstated like for like.”

Ald. Dominic Ruffalo, who initially voted no during a committee hearing on the agreement, supported it at council but with concerns. He said two years to bring the system to fruition “seems to me a little fast.” He also wondered about the 30-year duration of the agreement and questioned whether fiberoptic systems would continue to be viable even a decade from now.

Bradshaw said while advancements in wireless technology for mobile devices continue to advance quickly, “the one thing that isn’t going anywhere is fiber” and that such technology is fundamentally dependent on “capacity in the ground.”

“Those devices, though they may talk to each other, need to be able to move significant amounts of capacity, and the only means really available to it right now is fiber optic infrastructure in the ground,” he said, likening it to having in-ground cell towers.

Ruffalo said he was pleased SiFi chose Kenosha but requested that the company give updates and answer questions of alderpersons at least a couple times a year to report on installation progress.

Some council members also were concerned that agreement was moving quickly through the city process without the benefit of being able to visually see how the system would function. Ald. Eric Haugaard wondered whether the vote could be deferred until the council was able to meet in person.

No cost to taxpayers

Bradshaw said deferment would not be ideal given conditions in the current investment market. He said that while SiFi does not build the network itself, it’s different from other companies in that it’s the first entity of its kind to bring 100$ private investment to “true open access platforms to generate competition with zero municipal and taxpayer subsidies.”

City Administrator John Morrissey said that the agreement had been vetted and negotiated with the assurance of the company securing the financial commitments to offer installing the fiberoptic network at no cost to the city.

He said that in addition to the more than $90 million SiFi is investing in infrastructure, it will provide the city $7,000 per month to cover the cost of any needed permits and inspections. The monthly payment would continue through the duration of the project.

Morrissey said the cost for affordable high-speed internet for city subscribers would depend on when SiFi secures the necessary internet service providers, or ISPs.

“At this time, there is no cost that I can provide, however, in the due diligence that we completed, it appears the speed of service will be significantly increased and it is anticipated that the cost for service will be lower,” he said. “Depending on the number of providers will determine the cost.”

The company is expected to market to residents and businesses once it has determined the ISPs. He said that the fiberoptic infrastructure is being developed exclusively for residents and businesses in the city of Kenosha and for city services.

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