Allowing the city to harness the power of its existing broadband capabilities can significantly enhance economic development, business recruitment and retention and job creation, according to a recent study.
That’s why Hamilton’s We Connect People sub-committee plans to create a broadband utility and build a data center to house the needed infrastructure.
Hamilton City Council recently gave its approval of the effort, which seeks to make the most of a fiber optic network already in place for at least nine years, said Mark Murray, a project manager for the city’s underground utilities.
Murray said the opportunity to offer broadband to businesses and schools is similar to what Hamilton does with the electricity it generates.
“If we were putting up poles and stringing wires and only providing that to city institutions or city buildings … why wouldn’t we offer electric to businesses?” he said. “Well, that’s the same question that’s being asked of our fiber optic network. We’ve made great use of it here within the city, but why not take this asset and offer it as a service to the businesses?”
Providing the technology will improve internal efficiencies, enhance collaborations with other public organizations and create new opportunities to provide services to schools, libraries, universities and local organizations, Murray said.
“When you start to see this type of facility go in, it’s not unusual for regional or national start ups to want to take advantage of the opportunity to tap into our fiber network,” he said.
The economic development potential for Hamilton is huge, Murray said.
“We think the opportunities for companies that are already starting to locate in Hamilton, for example Liferay, to be able to expand what they do. If they expand, you’re talking about more job opportunities in Hamilton.”
The next step for the city includes reviewing options for a data center/co-location facility and identifying build-out costs, which are projected to be $4.3 million over the first three years. That breaks down to $2 million in 2014 for network expansion, equipment and facilities, then another $1.2 million in 2015. About $1.1 million would be utilized in 2016 for ongoing capital and operation and maintenance expenses.
But that’s only a cost estimate and not one that’s set in stone. The committee, instead of opting to build a brand new facility, could choose to utilize space within the city building, or purchase a vacant property.
“A lot of that is predicated on the type of data center we try to create and operate,” Murray said.
Positive operating revenues are projected for 2017 and positive net income for 2018, according to committee estimates.
The committee also must develop an implementation plan, business outreach process and service provider outreach process, as well as a marketing plan.
Another part of the effort includes exploring opportunities to provide services to Hamilton City School District as a potential anchor customer for the broadband utility, Murray said.
“We’re looking to provide the wire-to-wire communication to get their services to them,” Murray said. “We’re not looking to be the company that provides the services, such as phone, video, data.”
The committee planning the broadband effort is part of a strategic planning process initiated by Joshua Smith, Hamilton’s city manager, Murray said.
Building a broadband utility has already paid off in the ability to attract and retain businesses for numerous cities, including Westerville, which has a 16,000 square-foot-data center.
The center serves as a connectivity hub for local and regional business, offering support for cloud computing, co-location, broadband services and server rack space and security, according to city officials.
Broadband is “a tremendous economic development tool” that is the next stage of infrastructure, said Jason Bechtold, Westerville’s economic development administrator, who compared it to a water, sewer or utility line.
“The need for businesses to have high-speed Internet is non-negotiable,” Bechtold said. “They have to have it so that companies here can thrive locally, but also compete globally.
“Having that necessary infrastructure (gives) carriers and providers an opportunity to get access to the infrastructure to deliver those services to the businesses and then the businesses have the choice of the carrier or provider.”
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