Duluth asks Lincoln Park residents to weigh in on proposed fiber optics network - Duluth News Tribune

Duluth asks Lincoln Park residents to weigh in on proposed fiber optics network – Duluth News Tribune

DULUTH — The city is preparing to invest $5.5 million in a fiber optics network that is expected to deliver high-speed data services to Lincoln Park residents and businesses at a more affordable price. But first it wants to gauge public interest in the project.

Duluth Mayor Emily Larson

City officials are asking local residents and businesses to register their interest in the idea of ​​installing a municipally owned system by visiting duluthfiber.com or by filling out a nonbinding form at a local public library.

Mayor Emily Larson described high-speed broadband data service as something that “really every single resident of this community needs, deserves and should expect.”

However, she suggests many residents of Lincoln Park have been left out of the game.

During a news conference at the corner of Superior Street and 19th Avenue West on Tuesday, Larson said, “We’re here to discuss this because this truly is an underserved neighborhood.”

While Larson said it may be inconvenient that she, as a visitor, may be unable to text from some portions of Lincoln Park, “What is deeply problematic are the households, the kids, the families who cannot get access to internet or broadband in this neighborhood. When we have kids and families that are sitting outside of fast food restaurants to hook into the internet to apply for jobs or to look for housing or to do their homework, it is bad for our entire community.”

She suggested the local situation is worse than it may appear, saying: “While on paper, the city of Duluth appears to be a served community, we know that there are many, many neighborhoods that don’t have access, don’t have connectivity, and who do not have reliable internet or broadband.”

Emily Nygren, an economic developer for the city, said Duluth staff are excited to launch the Lincoln Park pilot project and that it “would serve up to 1,900 residents and businesses with fiber internet access.”

Come January, the Duluth City Council is expected to weigh in on a resolution that could allow for work to begin on the project, with expectation that the service would be operational by year’s end, allowing locals to begin receiving service.

Nygren said that in a recent survey, more than 1,700 residents indicated they were dissatisfied with their current internet service because it was unreliable, didn’t meet their speed expectations or was unaffordable.

Nygren said that under the current plan, the city would own a fiber optic network and offer access to service providers, who would compete to deliver the most attractive and inexpensive options to users. Based on what other communities have seen, she predicted the infrastructure would trim $20 to $30 off the current cost of service and deliver it at accelerated speeds.

Ideally, Nygren said at least half of customers with the ability to access the network will sign up for service.

The city already has set aside $1 million in COVID-19 relief funds received through the federal American Rescue Plan Act to support the initiative, and Nygren said the remainder of the cost should be covered through available local economic development funds, without adding to Duluth’s property tax burden.

City administration had previously explored the idea of ​​funding the project in part from the Community Investment Trust, but it changed course when a few members of the City Council raised concerns about drawing down the one-time reserve that helps buoy Duluth’s bond rating.

If the fiber optic pilot project in Lincoln Park is well received, Duluth may consider building it out into a citywide system at a much bigger anticipated cost of $76 million to $79 million.

In a statement, Larson said: “Especially after the pandemic shifted so much of our daily business online, it’s now crucial that all people who live, work and play in Duluth have reliable, affordable access to high-speed internet connectivity that has the capacity to meet the needs of current and future technology. The city is so excited to be making measurable progress toward that end.”

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