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City Gauging Interest In Municipally-Owned Broadband Network

City officials want to know if community residents want a municipally-owned broadband network.

Jamestown Mayor Eddie Sundquist said city officials are gauging the interest of community residents in a municipal broadband network via a survey that can be found at jamestownfiber.com. While the survey is ongoing, Sundquist said city officials are also working on a feasibility study to determine if the city and Jamestown Board of Public Utilities should create a master plan and task force to analyze the possibility of creating its own broadband network.

Sundquist told The Post-Journal that a city-owned broadband network would mean potentially faster internet speeds and more access for residents and businesses.

“I think the No. 1 thing is that we found during the pandemic … some places (in the city we couldn’t) connect our families and kids (to the internet). In other cases, there was not enough speed. When we were asking our kids to connect virtually with their teachers there wasn’t enough speed to do that. It was even worse for families with multiple children who were trying to connect at the same time,” he said. “(A city-owned broadband network) would allow us to provide internet access to every resident and business and we could partner with the school district to make sure there is a connection for all the kids and students.”

Sundquist said the city’s feasibility study will determine what the broadband network would look like. He said in other cities that have their own municipal-owned broadband network, there is a public and private partnership where the city creates the broadband network, but a private company, like a Spectrum, Windstream or DFT, would provide the internet connection. He added the potential partnership of the public sector in the city and a private business could potentially lower the cost of how much people pay for internet service.

“For example, Spectrum and Windstream now they provide the infrastructure and service. When you remove the infrastructure component, which is the largest cost and you allow the city to do it at a cheaper rate, (the internet provider) would just provide the internet connection, which would lower rates,” he said.

Sundquist said no city in the state of New York currently has it’s own municipally-owned broadband network. He said one city in the country that city officials have been studying is Chattanooga, Tenn. He added after Chattanooga created their own network, economic development increased because businesses, like car manufactures and technology companies, wanted the high-speed connection.

“We would be blazing a trail here,” Sundquist said about Jamestown being the first city in the state to own a broadband network.

Sundquist said he has no preliminary information about how much it would cost to create a city-owned broadband network. He said the feasibility study will provide an estimate of the costs when it is completed. However, he said city officials would be able to use American Rescue Act stimulus funding, of which the city is scheduled to receive $29.8 million, for broadband internet.

“Broadband development is specifically stated in the (American Rescue Act) law,” Sundquist said. “We could use some of that funding if we wanted to go that route.”

As of May 28, about 300 city residents had completed the survey. Sundquist said the survey will continue to be opened until at least 600 people respond. He said after the survey is done, city officials will continue to work on the feasibility study. Once the study is completed and if it’s considered feasible for the city to create its own broadband network, the mayor said a broadband task force will be created to continue looking at the potential benefits.

“We want to identify the digital divides,” he said. “We want to ensure people have access to the internet.”

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