Duluth reports that just 6% of it residents have direct access to a high-speed fiber optic network at present. In her “State of the City” address earlier this year, Mayor Emily Larson said Duluthians struggle with “unreasonably high prices, unreliable service or no viable access altogether.
“This is unacceptable and holding us back as a community,” she said.
In April, the Duluth Economic Development Authority approved up to $65,000 in funding to hire Entrypoint LLC to examine the prospects of building out a city-owned fiber optic network. The same firm, based in Salt Lake City, Utah, has also advised the city of Superior as it developed plans for a $31 million open-access network, that would be municipally owned and equally available for multiple internet service providers to use.
On Monday night, the Duluth City Council received an update on that analysis and received its first glimpse of a proposed Digital Access Master Plan.
The document proposes Duluth launch a pilot project in Lincoln Park next year at an anticipated cost of $7 million to $9 million. This would involve building out a primarily underground fiber optic network to serve about 1,900 customers next year.
After a full year of operating that network, Duluth would then decide whether to continue building out a city-wide network at an anticipated total cost of $76 million to $79 million.
If the Lincoln Park pilot project plan gains council backing, Chris Fleege, director of Duluth’s planning and economic development division, said up to $4 million could be drawn from levy-neutral one-time economic development funding sources within the city’s general fund.
They plan to apply for a Border to Border grant and recoup costs through service fees to customers…
Larson said the fiber optic network promises to result in real savings and dramatically improved service for residents.
“We are already, as a community, paying a significant amount to ensure that there is connectivity,” she said, pointing out that the city collectively pays about $29.5 million annually for service to 36,000 households, with customers paying an average of about $68 per month.
“With this plan, we know and have the data that … the total monthly cost to residents would be between $30 and $55. That is a significant savings,” she said.