ANACORTES — The city of Anacortes recently brought on a new staff member to oversee the creation of a city-run broadband internet network.
Jim Lemberg, municipal broadband business manager, started in his job this month. With most of a fiber backbone already built, the plan this year is to construct a fiber distribution network in three pilot areas and connect the network to the internet, he said.
After that, residences and businesses in the three pilot zones will be able to sign up for a fiber internet connection to their buildings. The three pilot zones are the downtown business area, Old Town and near M Avenue.
Lemberg, who previously oversaw a municipal broadband network in Florida, said he doesn’t know when the Anacortes network would be ready for its first customers, but the goal is well before the end of the year.
The Anacortes City Council approved about $3 million in its two-year budget last fall to get the network going. If it chooses to later expand the network citywide, the estimated cost would be $12 million.
Meanwhile, work is underway on the business side of the project, such as how much customers will pay for internet and what services they can expect.
Anacortes will be its own internet service provider, Lemberg said.
“We’re basically running a small business,” he said.
One of the main goals of the city network is to provide high-speed internet at a competitive price, according to a resolution passed last year by the City Council.
Prices would be set by the council. While no decisions have been made, Lemberg said staff are researching the prices for service from competitors, including Comcast and Frontier.
The goal is to offer three tiers of service, including the fastest of 1 gigabit per second, he said.
Anacortes recently contracted with WAVE for internet service. While the city will run its own network, WAVE will provide “connection to the outside world,” Lemberg said.
He told council members Monday there will two separate lines connecting Anacortes to the internet, in case one breaks.
“We will never see a blink of an eye in internet service,” he said.
The business plan also sets a goal of a 35% “take-rate” to make the network financially viable, Anacortes Administrative Services Director Emily Schuh said.
In the first year, that means the city wants at least 350 people to sign up out of the 1,000 buildings that will have the option, she said.
Councilman Ryan Walters said Monday the aim is to create a self-sustaining network, meaning one that is paid for by users, not subsidized by taxpayers.
Lemberg said there are opportunities for additional revenue, such as leasing fiber to private companies.
There is also potential for schools and hospitals to hook up to the network.
Lemberg said a common question the city receives is how fiber will compete will the expansion of 5G wireless technology.
He said there is little comparison between other technologies and fiber, which can transmit large amounts of data at the speed of light.
“This is the best we have by far, and it is so far and above and beyond other technologies,” he said.