Gigabit network announcements have been coming at a ferocious pace lately, including five last week. The fifth one, announced late Thursday, comes from Urbana-Champaign Big Broadband (UC2B) and iTV3 – and it has some unique elements that would seem to make it a particularly good deal for the community. (We reported previously on the other four gigabit deployments from last week.)
UC2B is a not-for-profit organization created by the Cities of Urbana and Champaign, Ill. and the University of Illinois to oversee a fiber network that is already operational in the community and which was funded using federal and state grants with local matching funds. iTV3 is an Internet service provider and fiber network operator that is owned by family-owned Family Video, the nation’s largest video and game rental company.
iTV3 won a contract to expand the UC2B network through a competitive bidding process. Initially the company plans to offer broadband service at speeds of up to 1 Gbps and voice service. Eventually video services may be added.
The Urbana/ Champaign Gigabit Network
The agreement between Illinois-based iTV3 and UC2B has a number of key provisions, including some that haven’t been included in plans for some other gigabit networks, such as those from Google Fiber, AT&T, and CenturyLink.
According to the agreement, iTV3 will:
• invest tens of millions of dollars to build gigabit fiber optic Internet in Champaign/ Urbana
• operate and maintain the existing UC2B network and continue to provide service to existing UC2B customers under their existing contracts
• build fiber infrastructure in any area of the community where 50% of potential customers who sign up in advance for service and to commence construction within 120 days after the threshold is reached (except in the winter, when weather conditions could prevent network construction)
• offer wholesale access on the network to competing companies
• make unused ring fiber available for competing companies to offer service to any Champaign/ Urbana neighborhoods to which iTV3 has not deployed fiber-to-the-home within five years so that the competing companies can offer service
• contribute to UC2B’s Community Benefit Fund, which will promote digital literacy and adoption
• have the ability to lease unused backbone fiber strands on the existing UC2B network and use existing UC2B equipment
Targeting initial gigabit deployments to neighborhoods where a certain number of residents have signed up for service has become a common practice among gigabit network builders. But most agreements do not require the network operator to build out every neighborhood where at least 50% of potential customers sign up for service.
And Google Fiber has not made any plans to offer connectivity to its gigabit network infrastructure to other network operators.
Kudos From Wheeler
Gigabit network announcements have become so commonplace that we’re not seeing so many of the congratulatory statements that typically accompanied the earliest announcements. But the UC2B/ iTV3 announcement drew several such statements, including one from FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler, who said, “This public-private partnership provides a valuable model for communities and companies throughout the country.”
Wheeler also said the announcement was “a demonstration of the creativity that is stimulated when localities are free to work with the private sector to improve broadband offerings”—an apparent reference to action he has threatened to take against state-level and local-level legislation preventing municipalities from building fiber networks.