Internet connections in Langley City could get much faster and cheaper if the municipality goes ahead with a suggested new initiative.
Consultant Steve Nicol suggested City council consider using its own fibre-optic infrastructure to provide ultra-fast Internet service to its residents and businesses. The advice came in an economic strategy report presented to council June 27.
Nicol said that fibre-optic Internet connections — which can provide speeds at least twice as fast as cable or DSL — in the City could attract new business.
The idea is for the City to lease out unused portions of existing and future fibre-optic lines, known as ‘dark fibre,’ to internet service providers (ISPs).
‘Dark fibre’ could be better used
The City currently has fibre-optic lines between city hall and its operations centre, the fire hall and Douglas Recreation Centre.
Some portions of these lines are considered ‘dark’ — or not entirely utilized — and could be used for ultra-fast Internet service. These lines could also have additional strands added to increase capacity, said director of engineering, parks and environment, Rick Bomhof.
Langley City could run new fibre lines through abandoned sewer mains at a currently unknown cost, said Bomhof.
Other municipalities, including Kamloops, New Westminster and Coquitlam already have such a system in place.
In 2008, The City of Coquitlam started the Coquitlam Optical Network Corporation (QNet), which leases to several ISPs who, in turn, sell to residential and business customers.
“It has been an unmitigated success,” said QNet’s director of operations, Scott Jamieson.
QNet recently became cash-flow positive and began paying off the City’s initial investment, which was just under $5 million.
QNet uses city-owned fibre-optic lines which were already in place to operate traffic lights, among other uses. (This strategy would not work in Langley City as its traffic lights are operated by fibre-optic lines owned by private companies such as Telus and Shaw.)
Condo towers, schools and businesses along arterial roads in Coquitlam can subscribe to service from a handful of small ISPs — including AEBC which advertises speeds up 100 megabytes per second (fast enough to download an HD movie in under a minute) for $59 a month.
Jamieson said that in addition to being a novel revenue stream for the city, QNet makes the internet service market more competitive in Coquitlam, benefiting residents and businesses.
He also said it has greatly reduced the city’s telecom costs.
“Our cost of telecoms is probably hundreds of thousands of dollars less than a comparable city that doesn’t have a fibre network,” he said.
Fibre-optic infrastructure could attract business
Because he is one step removed from the service-buying customers, Jamieson said he doesn’t know for sure if QNet has attracted new business or helped existing businesses, but he believes it likely that it has.
“The infrastructure of the economy is the broadband networks. It’s not the canals and the railways, it’s the broadband networks. If it’s more ubiquitous and less expensive that must be helping us compete in the global economy,” he said.
Langley City councillor and co-chair of the economic development committee, Paul Albrecht, said he hadn’t heard of ‘dark fibre’ city programs before it was brought to his attention by Nicol.
“This was really something that captured my attention and something that I thought that we should be putting a whole lot more time and energy into exploring how that would work and what it would look like and the challenges with getting it put in place,” he said.
Albrecht said Langley City may study the issue further by contracting a consultant or having municipal staff study the feasibility and develop a business plan.
Coun. Dennis Marsden, chair of Coquitlam’s economic development advisory committee, said that while that city’s experience “has been quite positive” he encourages the City of Langley to proceed cautiously with any plan of developing a ‘dark fibre’ network.
“I think that any cities looking to move in this direction should ensure that they have a solid business case and at some point determine an appropriate exit strategy or willingness to reinvest for the future as technology continues to evolve,” said Marsden.
Telecom giant Telus does not currently have plans to expand its fibre-optic Internet service in the Langleys.
“We are constantly reviewing our plans for fibre investments throughout the province of B.C., and the community of Langley is no exception,” said Liz Sauvé, a Telus media relations representative.
In B.C., Telus provides fibre-optic Internet to several communities, including Vancouver, Kelowna and Kamloops and has recently announced plans to lay down fibre lines in communities such as Abbotsford.