One of the basic advantages of councils of governments is they can combine the authority and purchasing power of their members to deliver better quality service for their members. The South Bay Cities Council of Governments (SBCCOG) effort to pool the resources of its sixteen members to create their own broadband network is a textbook case study of this approach. By finding and investing the funds to create the network, its member cities will save money and get better service.
When built out, the network will create a "ring of dark fiber" around the South Bay (dark fiber is dedicated and unmetered connectivity that provides nearly unlimited bandwidth options in one place). The system will provide access points into all member cities, high-speed connectivity for carrier-grade internet service and point to point transport connections with a service level commitment of 99.99% system availability. The core network is protected via ring architecture which will automatically re-route traffic in the event of a system disruption. Bandwidth availability starts with 1 gigabit (Gb) service and will scale to 2 Gb, 10 Gb, and higher speeds as members require. The system will also have two diverse internet “hubs” or “points of presence” (“POP”) interconnected to it located at world-class data-centers in El Segundo and Hawthorne.
After delivery, cities will be paying less and getting more service. A minimum of 1 gigabit of service will cost $1000 per month and this price will go down as more services are linked to the system. Service (at slightly higher rates) will also be available for 2, 5 and 10 gigabits. To compare: A SBCCOG survey of 10 South Bay cities found that they are currently paying an average of $3,627 per month for internet speeds well under one gigabit. Put another way, cities will be able to access 10 gigabit levels of data for less than what they are currently paying for less than 1 gigabit.
Perhaps the biggest challenge SBCCOG faced was how to pay for the initial capital costs. When SBCCOG initially conceived of the idea, the concept was to provide general municipal services that would include, among many other things, support for transportation systems management. However, the only funding that was available was LA Metro's Measure M account that set aside funding for each subregion in the Los Angeles County, including the South Bay Area. But in order to access these funds, the primary purpose of the initial connectivity must be for transportation. As a result, the decision was made to use the connectivity for transportation purposes first. Afterward, to the extent additional capacity in the system existed, it could be made available for other public and economic development uses.
SBCCOG submitted a $4.4 million funding request to set up the network that would be required for real-time traffic management, a range of road sensors, and enhanced signal synchronization between cities. In addition, the fiber would also support infrastructure and applications related connected and autonomous vehicles. Ultimately, the funds could also explore connectivity that would support "trips not taken" encouraging telecommuting, tele-medicine, distance education, and digital delivery of municipal services. In September, the LA Metro board approved the funds as part of a set of infrastructure improvements for the South Bay Area.
The South Bay Fiber Network should be operational by July 2020.
How SBCCOG Did It
- They recognized that broadband was an issue and convened a broadband working group back in 2016-17.
- After gauging member interest, SBCCOG partnered with the South Bay Workforce Investment Board to conduct a feasibility study that determined that the cities would collectively benefit by receiving better service for less money if the pooled their resources.
- The partnership with SBWIB continued as they engaged local elected officials and businesses in an education effort around broadband resources to build support in the community.
- They collected support letters from each city supporting the fiber network at the right service level and price, which was useful when engaging in discussions with potential contractors and providers.
- They adapted their priorities to fit the needs of the funding source. By focusing on transportation first, they found a way to meet the requirements of Measure M and their own objectives.
- SBCCOG issued an RFP and included the involvement and expertise of city information technology directors to select the contractor.