PALMDALE — The City could become Palmdale FiberCity with a citywide fiber-optic network that would offer residents, schools, and businesses a higher level of Internet connectivity while helping to close the technological digital divide under a proposal heard at Tuesday night’s City Council meeting.
SiFi Networks, a privately owned company, seeks to invest $160 million in Palmdale to deploy 800 miles of fiber throughout the City under a proposed partnership with Palmdale.
“What we’d like to do is offer very, very high speed but very low-cost internet product to various households throughout the entire community,” SiFi President Scott Bradshaw said during a presentation at Tuesday’s council meeting.
Bradshaw spoke to the council via a video connection from Massachusetts.
The proposed plan calls for a partnership with SiFi Networks for the installation of a fiber optic network for residential and commercial gig speed Internet. When implemented, it would not only improve the connectivity of Palmdale residents and businesses, but will also help bridge the digital divide, the gap that exists between individuals who have access to modern information and communication technology and those who lack it.
Once completed, essentially every home and every business in Palmdale will have access to high-speed Internet. Currently only about 5 % of homes and 30% of businesses in Palmdale have that level of connectivity.
“It is zero taxpayer dollars. SiFi’s paying for the entire infrastructure,” Bradshaw said.
Bradshaw added there is no rocket science to the proposal.
“We build the entire infrastructure,” Bradshaw said. “We design and build the most advantageous network for the least ultimately possible cost that we can without cutting corners.”
The proposed 5G network would be an open access network enabling a choice of Internet service providers. The ultimate goal is to get to the lowest possible wholesale rate to offer the network to Internet service providers.
“Our No. 1 job is to build the very best network,” SiFi Networks’ Geoff Spickler said during the meeting. “The ISP or the service provider’s job is to manage the customer’s interest to the best of their ability and to be competitive in the marketplace.”
The proposed partnership would provide an estimated 100 locally trained job to support the network. There is also an opportunity to municipal revenue.
Councilman Austin Bishop praised the proposal.
“This is really going to propel our city forward for homeowners and businesses as well,” Bishop said.
Councilman Juan Carrillo wished the City had the opportunity to implement the fiber network before the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I’ve been very supportive, I’ve been very outspoken about WiFi for educational purposes,” Carrillo said. “With what’s going on today, our kids having to learn through a tablet, this would have been an amazing program to have now.”
City Manager J.J. Murphy said he has been in contact with superintendents from the city’s three school districts —Antelope Valley Union High School District, Palmdale School District, and Westside Union School District.
“All three school superintendents have been briefed on this project and are willing to parter with the city moving forward,” Murphy said.
“I know that by being able to provide that high-speed Internet that that also increases the value of the business property and the resident components that are there,” Mayor Steve Hofbauer said.
Hofbauer, in a statement released Wednesday, praised city staff for their efforts on the proposal.
“During the COVID-19 pandemic, it became clear, especially as people were relying on Zoom and other programs for meetings and our schools were doing distance learning that it was necessary to have the best technologies available. This innovative project is a huge step in that direction,” Hofbauer said.
Carrillo asked what the proposed cost would be to families who cannot afford Internet service currently.
Bradshaw could not provide a figure but said they are trying to keep the cost as low as possible while also increasing the data speed to people’s homes.
Carrillo also saw the benefit of the proposed network in attracting industries to the city.
The City Council will consider a final proposal in December.
“This fiber network that we’re talking about is a game-changer,” Murphy said.
Murphy added Palmdale is a finalist for the Smart Cities Readiness Challenge.
If the proposal is approved, it will take approximately one year to plan and two years of construction to deploy throughout the entire city. During the process, once fiber has been installed in a neighborhood, the services will be made available there.