New West embarks on fibre-optic broadband network initiative

The City of New Westminster feels the need for speed.

The city has launched an initiative to develop an open-access fibre-optic broadband network to foster connectivity and business development.

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“This business case is based on open access,” said Roel Coert, a fibre optic network expert who prepared a business case for the city. “You can compare it to a road. The municipality lays a road that goes to businesses, it goes to houses. Trucks can go over there and bring the goods to the business and the residents. A fibre optic network like this, open access, is exactly the same. It is a road that goes to different locations and service providers, in this case the Telcos and ISPs, can provide the services on top of that. With speed they are almost unlimited.”

Alvin Chok, the city’s chief information officer, said the initial focus will be on the uptown and downtown cores, with those areas set to be serviceable within a year or two.

“It influences the economic development, the investors, the people who want to come and live and work here. The younger generation wants to have high-speed Internet access anywhere in the city,” Chok said. “All this is part of the environment we are trying to build.”

Mayor Jonathan Cote said New Westminster’s economy has changed significantly in the past two decades, as a lot of mills and industry have left town.

“We feel this is New Westminster’s opportunity to reposition ourselves to make sure we continue to be a player in Metro Vancouver’s growing economy,” he said.

The city will be providing the infrastructure that telecommunications companies (Telcos) or Internet service providers (ISPs) can access to provide a fibre optic network to businesses and residents.

“This is about accelerating that transition toward a knowledge workforce economy,” said Blair Fryer, the city’s communications and economic development manager. “We have businesses in the city now that would be able to take advantage of ready access to the fibre right away. Then we have businesses that are interested in New Westminster that would be encouraged to come here if they could have access to that fibre.”

Cote said the provision of a fibre optic network is “absolutely critical” to making sure the city is able to attract the businesses of the future.

The city’s Intelligent City advisory committee asked a fibre and broadband network consultant to consider three fibre infrastructure options, ultimately selecting the “fibre-to-the-premises” model it believes will provide the greatest return on investment financially, socially and economically. The initiative will involve the installation of dark fibre to key business districts including Columbia Street, uptown, Sapperton, Queensborough and 12th Street.

A city staff report states that $5.5 million is required to finance the network and it’s expected to result in a net return of $16.8 million over a 30-year period. The city will generate revenue by leasing the fibre strands to the telcos and ISPs.

“That’s the entire business case. The entire cost to the city to do this is recouped by the leasing out of the fibre, the dark fibre, to the ISPs and Telcos so they can light it up,” Fryer said. “We are doing this in stages. It’s a self-financing model in the sense the revenue we generate from leasing out that dark fibre to ISPs covers our costs, and in the future once our costs are completely paid for this entire network, this become a revenue generator for the city.”

Coun. Bill Harper said Royal Columbian Hospital, Douglas College, the Justice Institute of B.C. and the New Westminster School District are involved in the Intelligent City task force and anticipates they’ll be among the businesses and residents accessing the service.

“This is going to become a health care hub, so having this technology is going to be absolutely critical,” Harper said of Royal Columbian Hospital’s expansion plans.

Coert said the service providers are lined up and “waiting for the go signal” that the infrastructure is in place.

In addition to the fibre-to-the-premises model, the consultant also considered a fibre-to-the-home model and a combined fibre-to-the-home and fibre-to-the-premises model.

“This is the model we are going to build out right now,” Fryer said of the fibre-to-the premises model. “That isn’t to say that in the future if these ISPs and Telcos, through our open access system, determine that there’s a real market to run these to private residential buildings and homes in New Westminster that we won’t be able to do that. But we won’t do that until there’s a business case to support it.”

For the past couple of years, the city has been working on an Intelligent City plan, which considers initiatives related to innovation, infrastructure, digital inclusion, knowledge workforce and marketing and advocacy.

“For the most part it has been conceptual ideas we have been looking at, but I think we are now getting down to the development of something in the ground and something very tangible,” Cote said. “I need to emphasize, this is one of that top strategic priorities of the city moving forward and a big part of our economic development plan.”

Harper said there’s a “huge advantage” in terms of cities overall economic development to travel down this road and become Intelligent Cities. He said there are many examples of cities around the world have benefited in many ways, including economically, from becoming intelligent cities.

“We expect that to happen here,” he said.

U.S. President Barack Obama recently said high-speed broadband is not a luxury, it’s a necessity. He made the comments when speaking in Cedar Falls – Iowa’s first gigabit city, where the Internet is nearly 100 times faster than in other parts of the United States.

“This isn’t just about making it easier to stream Netflix or scroll through your Facebook news feed. … This is about helping local businesses grow and prosper and compete in a global economy,” he said. “It’s about giving the entrepreneur, the small businessperson on Main Street a chance to compete with the folks out in Silicon Valley, or across the globe. It’s about helping a student access the online courses and employment opportunities that can help her pursue her dreams.”

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