The City developed a Fibre Optic Broadband Strategy which was presented to Council in June 2019. As recommended in the strategy, the 2021 - 2023 Corporate Plan includes an initiative to build out a fibre optic broadband network in the industrial and commercial areas and completion of the City fibre ring to connect municipal facilities. The approved budget in 2021 is $4.651 million including $4.251 million in stimulus funding from the Alberta government. The stimulus funding must be spent by December 31, 2021 and the City must retain ownership of the asset for at least 5 years.
The City retained Rohl Global in late 2020 to undertake the detailed design of the broadband network including cost estimates. This will be completed by mid-March 2021. The plan is to use the design to prepare and issue a construction tender by early April with a closing date of April 27th. Upon completion of construction, this would provide a fibre optic spine through our industrial and commercial lands – essentially a “middle mile” network. What it doesn’t provide are the following:
- Connection to the Edmonton internet exchange;
- “Last mile” connection to customers (Fibre To The Premise) from the spine; and
- Provision of services (voice, TV, internet).
In order to address these gaps, Administration has engaged IBI Group to assist in identifying viable strategies. IBI has extensive expertise and experience in working with municipalities in the development of implementation business plans for broadband networks. IBI will be making a presentation to Council on where we are at in terms of operating models and partner strategies and opportunities. The presentation will be given by:
- Bruno Peters, Deputy Regional Director, Canada West, IBI Group
- Keith Ponton, Manager, Intelligent Systems, IBI Group
At the same time, Administration has been holding discussions with other municipalities who have either built out or are actively pursuing fibre optic networks. These discussions have been expanded to include major telecoms, independent ISPs (Internet Service Providers) and other players in the broadband space to assess their possible interest in partnering or otherwise collaborating with us. The response has been generally positive and there is interest in what we are doing and a willingness to continue these conversations.
The position of most municipalities we have engaged is that broadband is really a utility that provides essential services to business and the broader community. As such, there is a willingness to accept the cost of construction and operation as a continuing expense to the municipality just like roads or transit. There is interest in how to offset these costs to the extent possible through licensing agreements with ISPs. However, the long term benefit is business competitiveness in retaining and attracting investment and talent, and providing adequate broadband services to the community at affordable rates.
A key learning from our consultations with other municipalities who are already further along is the importance of finding potential partners that can address the gaps between having fibre in the ground and an operational network. This has usually been done by issuing an RFP that sets out the intent and objectives of the municipality and requesting proposals from parties interested in collaboration or partnership opportunities. In many cases, the municipality has funding in place to build a fibre network and intends to retain ownership; in other cases, the municipal fibre is contributed to a larger network or is ultimately purchased by the private partner.
For Spruce Grove, Administration believes it is prudent to follow a similar process. This involves the City taking the additional step of issuing a Negotiated Request For Proposal (RFP) inviting interested parties to submit proposals for collaborating or partnering with us on a fibre optic network. This would help us determine what the opportunities are to find players who can fill the gaps required for lighting and expanding the network and which proposal(s) are to the best advantage of the City, price and other factors considered. Specifically we would be seeking partners that can bring some combination of the following attributes:
- Create leverage by expanding the coverage of the network beyond what City funding can build;
- Ability to operate and maintain the fibre network;
- Provides connection to the Edmonton internet exchange;
- Brings some measure of network redundancy in case of disruptions;
- Serves the role of an ISP in marketing and providing services on the network (could be either open or single access);
- Able to fund “last mile” connections to the premise; and
- Can provide a financial return to the City on its fibre investment.
The timing would be to issue the RFP by March 15th and leave open to April 12th. By the end of April, the City should complete its evaluations know whether there are viable partnership opportunities and how we want to proceed. On a parallel track, Rohl Global will have completed the network design and the construction tender process will have closed so that we are in a position to complete construction by year-end. While in the perfect world we would know who we want to partner with prior to construction, it is not essential but we may move from collaborative design to a straight contribution of assets in any partnership arrangements.