Huntsville takes another step toward high speed fiber Internet

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(Photo: MGN Online)

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. – Wednesday Huntsville city officials took another step toward providing  Huntsville businesses, residents and institutions access to high speed fiber Internet.

The city of Huntsville released a Request for Information (RFI) for one or more partners to provide high speed Internet services through a city-wide fiber network.

The goal is to have fiber Internet at or above 1 gigabit per second, up to 200 times faster than the national average.

“We have reached a point where fiber networks are as essential to our infrastructure as water, sewer, and roads,” said Mayor Battle. “If Huntsville is to remain a technological leader in this hyper connected global world, we must be able to offer broadband access that can accommodate the growing demands of business, research institutions, entrepreneurs, residents and public safety.”

Mayor Battle said the drive to create a smart grid fiber network accelerated last year after conversations with his Economic Development Advisory Council about the increased need for ultra high speed connectivity and big data portals. The city retained CTC Technology & Energy, a national communications and engineering IT firm, to help develop a plan for Huntsville to provide high speed broadband through a public-private partnership.

“Huntsville is well positioned to attract one or more private partners willing to provide network services using public or private Partner-built fiber infrastructure,” said Mayor Battle.

Responses to the RFI are due April 24, 2015.

Click here to read the city of Huntsville Gig City RFI.

The city of Huntsville also released a list of “8 Things You Need to Know about the Huntsville GIG City RFI.”

How did we get here?

Spring of 2014—Discussions about the need for better connectivity begin in earnest.

June 2014—Mayor Tommy Battle convenes a group of key stakeholders to meet to discuss issues related to connectivity in a more detailed level with Dr. Andrew Afflerbach, a consultant with CTC Technology & Energy ctcnet.us and advisor to the City on issues related to fiber infrastructure.

Nov. 2014—Mayor Battle announces at his State of the City Address that Huntsville seeks to be a Gig City.

December 2014—City of Huntsville enters into a consulting agreement with CTC to create an RFI for the City of Huntsville to become a Gig City.

January 2015—Meetings are held with key stakeholders such as small businesses, public entities, and the members of the public to discuss issues that the RFI needs to address.

March 18, 2015—RFI is released

What is the timeline going forward?

• April 1, 2015 – Deadline for Submitting Letter of Intent to Respond to RFI
• April 1, 2015 – Deadline for Submitting Questions
• FINAL DEADLINE – April 24, 2015 – RFI Responses Due

Why is the City of Huntsville doing this?

Recent completion of a citywide fiber-to-the-premises (FTTP) network in neighboring Chattanooga and Google’s announcements of plans to build citywide fiber in the Nashville, Atlanta, and Raleigh-Durham areas have highlighted how citywide fiber is now a “need” rather than a “want” for large, technologically advanced cities in the region.

What is the goal of the RFI?

This RFI has been initiated to enable Huntsville to identify one or more Partners that will provide network services to end-users within the city limits using public or private Partner-built fiber infrastructure. Huntsville seeks input from potential Partners regarding the terms and conditions under which Partners would operate and manage Internet and other network services to homes, businesses, and institutions throughout Huntsville.

The City anticipates its Partner(s) will serve a broad range of customers with a variety of services ranging from dark fiber connectivity for Huntsville facilities and other key institutions and locations, to a retail offering that serves business and residential customers.

We are interested in Partners that will use the fiber to provide ultra-high-speed network access. We define ultra-high-speed as being at or above the multiple-hundred megabit-per-second range scalable to a gig and beyond.

1. Serving a wide area of the City as well as a diverse customer base with services that are reliable, scalable, and affordable.
2. Offer unique services and speeds and network performance better than that provided by the incumbent networks as advertised in Huntsville. For example, providing hundreds of megabits or gigabit speeds, providing symmetrical services, providing services that continue operating when commercial power fails, providing service level agreements, providing services on demand, and providing direct connectivity between locations throughout Huntsville.
3. Propose a fiber optic ring to interconnect to the noted institutions to each other and to national backbone networks.
4. Enhance connectivity to secure cloud services and offer predictability, redundancy in broadband services.
5. Respond to the needs of citizens of Huntsville
6. Respond to the needs of health care providers and patients.
7. Respond to the needs of the research and development community.
8. Respond to the needs of K-12 and higher education institutions.
9. Respond to the needs of the large and small businesses.
10. Provide cost-effective services for price-sensitive customers and flexible pricing plans.

What kind of Fiber to the Premises (FTTP) might be proposed?

This RFI is released for the purpose of optimizing Huntsville’s initiative and incorporating the needs and creative ideas of potential FTTP service providers. This information will assist in finalizing Huntsville’s FTTP network design planning and defining the relationship between Huntsville and its Partner(s).

• Private construction, operation, and maintenance privately-owned fiber optic infrastructure
• Public construction and private operation and maintenance of the fiber optic infrastructure and operates the fiber optic services over the Huntsville infrastructure
• Public-private partnership that jointly builds fiber to community anchor facilities, as well as utility infrastructure and a research backbone ring
• Private provisioning of services over the infrastructure
• Publicly or privately constructed open access network that allows other qualified providers to offer service over the network
• Any combination of these models as well as proposed alternative suggestions from respondents
We want to understand the Partner’s approach and past performance for kick-off, marketing, and execution in other communities, and how a Partner will tailor its prior experience to meet the City’s unique needs.

Is this a contract?

Though no contracts or formal relationships will be established through this RFI, it will provide valuable information that will significantly influence Huntsville’s fiber project and identify a community of potential service providers for Huntsville’s homes, businesses, and institutions. It will also enable Huntsville to understand the capabilities and interests of potential Partners and determine how to best include them.

Who should respond?

All interested service providers are strongly encouraged to respond. We welcome the response of incumbent service providers, as well as competitive providers, nonprofit organizations, public cooperatives, and entities that are not traditional Internet service providers, but are interested in offering service under innovative business models (application providers, as an example). Nontraditional providers may respond as part of a partnership with a network service provider, or may provide a separate response outlining their approach.

What does Huntsville offer?

Huntsville has conducted surveys and determined that Huntsville residents, businesses, and other entities desire better connectivity. Simply put, Huntsville provides a willing and ready customer base. Better connectivity is one of the most requested items on the City’s Imagine Huntsville site, a web portal for citizens to suggest ideas for the City. The desire for increased connectivity has led to the creation of a grassroots organization known as Launch Fiber. At this stage, the City itself does not wish to provide services to end-users, but will work with the Partner(s) to help facilitate broadband deployment.

Huntsville will work with the Partner(s) to facilitate the smoothest possible access in construction and installation of the network. Once we have selected our Partner(s), Huntsville is prepared to promptly move forward with the partnership. An important component of any fiber build is franchising and permitting. The City will assign a point of contact (POC) for the Partner(s) and/or its contractor(s), and commits to provide services to help prevent or lessen conflicts in the Partner’s construction schedule.