Local Ohio officials prep gigabit broadband for economic development
- By Stephanie Kanowitz
- Jan 12, 2017
When Ernie Staten, deputy director of public service for Fairlawn, Ohio, had trouble getting online to do work, he knew the city had a problem.
Around the same time, Mayor William Roth was traveling to trade shows in China and Germany to find ways to bring economic development to the city of 7,500. Staten and Roth arrived at the same conclusion: They needed better internet connectivity.
Today, the city is about a third of the way through the build-out of FairlawnGig, a fiber-optic and wireless broadband network designed, operated and maintained by Fujitsu Network Communications on behalf of the city. It will give nearby residents and businesses speeds of 1 gigbit/sec to 100 gigabit/sec -- more than 20 times faster than anything currently available.
“The broadband that we have is probably pretty typical for the state of Ohio. Ohio is ranked 50th now in the country, and Fairlawn was 86th in the state,” Staten said. “We were beyond the bottom of the barrel here in the city.”
That will change this fall, when the network is expected to be complete. Staten said 4,100 users are possible, although the city’s original goal was to connect 35 percent of the city. One neighborhood of 160 homes is already connected, with 75 percent of them signing up for service.
“We’re already making plans to go above the 35 percent in how we’re building it,” Staten said. “It’s a success is what I guess I’m getting at.”
For the high-speed access, Fujitsu installed an optical network terminal inside each subscribing home or office that also contains a wireless router, eliminating the need for a modem or other router.
The company designed the network as a Gigabit Passive Optical Network (GPON) rather than an active Ethernet network, according to Mitch Drake, Fujitsu’s broadband executive engagement leader, adding that the company has “the ability to put direct fiber and an active Ethernet technology” throughout the Akron-Fairlawn-Bath Township Joint Economic Development District, a main target of better internet speeds and reliability.
Fujitsu turned to communications equipment supplier Calix for the GPON and Juniper Networks for the routing.
The network was put through its paces last July, when local Hilton and DoubleTree hotels got early access to accommodate an influx of visitors attending the Republican National Convention in Cleveland.
“This connectivity is appreciated by all our guests, but millennials tell us it’s the most important service we deliver,” Rennick Andreoli, president of RDA Hotel Management, which owns and operates the properties, said in a statement. “Without question, FairlawnGig gives us a local competitive advantage.”
Keeping and attracting businesses are the city’s major goals with the project. That’s why the city is not seeking to recoup the $10 million cost of the buildout. Staten and other city leaders view it as necessary infrastructure.
“We’re looking for those businesses to stay in town,” Staten said. “We’re looking for other businesses to come into town, and we’re looking for the tax base more so than we’re looking for the infrastructure to get repaid.”
To this end, users who sign on during construction get free installation. The city is, however, hoping to cover the costs of maintenance and operation, which Fujitsu handles. To do that, it will sell access to other providers. So far, only FairlawnGig has signed on.
“If we do well enough that we can cover the cost of the build over years to come, that will be great,” Staten said. “That will be exciting for the city, but our look on this was this was necessary infrastructure, no different than a road, no different than a water line or a sewer.”
City officials spoke with incumbent internet providers -- Frontier Communications, AT&T and Time Warner Internet -- about their plan, but none was interested in participating at the time. None pushed back against it, either, Staten added.
In addition to the fiber optics, the city and Fujitsu are working on another plan to put the city under a wireless umbrella with the intention of selling service to city visitors.
“The city of Fairlawn is a little different than most communities. At night we’re 7,500 residents, but during the day we can swell to 40,000 or 50,000 residents with the office space that’s here, the retail space, hotels,” Staten said. Rather than make them use up cellular data on their devices, he’s hoping they’ll use FairlawnGig.
The design is still in the works, although the plan is to use a large tower in the city’s center and smaller access points throughout the region. This project should also be completed this fall.
Stephanie Kanowitz is a freelance writer based in northern Virginia.