By the Communications Subcommittee of the Citizens Economic Development Commission: M. Zagorski, D. Haug, B. O’Rourke, R. Senderoff, R. Wolfe
The elections are over, and now we have to buckle down and concentrate on making this city work and assuring its long-term financial future. Since all three proposed levies failed, the City must find new ways to increase revenues or we will find that more cuts in services and other areas will become necessary. And the citizens of Edmonds have made it clear that raising taxes in not the route to go. So the hard decision is how and where, after many years of cuts, can we find new sources of revenue?
With this in mind, we would like to update you on what the Citizens Economic Development Commission (CEDC) has been doing in cooperation with the City and the Citizens Technology Advisory Committee (CTAC) to increase City revenues through sales of excess broadband capacity. There is tremendous potential to improve the City’s finances, depending on the path our City leadership chooses to take.
First, we would like to recap why the City is involved in broadband. In 2005, Washington State Department of Transportation approached Edmonds with a request to use City right of way to install fiber optic facilities from Hwy 99 to the Washington State ferry dock at Main Street. In exchange for the City’s permission to use the public right of way for this purpose, the City of Edmonds was granted the use of 24 strands of fiber optic cable along the same route. These fiber optic strands could, if exploited to their full potential, have enough capacity to provide every residence, business and governmental entity in the City of Edmonds with about 4 times the capacity currently offered by Frontier’s recently installed fiber optic network. The potential is enormous; what and how we exploit it?
The City has already found a way to produce significant savings; foremost among these is through video arraignment of prisoners. The Edmonds Police Department houses any arrestee in the Lynnwood jail if the infraction is not a felony (the felony arrests are already housed in Everett). In order to bring the prisoner to an arraignment from the Lynnwood facility, two off-duty officers are required to escort the prisoner to and from the courthouse in Everett. This procedure creates a lot of overtime and denies our officers their time off to rest up for their next shift. Fiber optics has now eliminated the need for transporting prisoners to and from Lynnwood. The judge and defendant are able to communicate directly via camera, which saves the City more than $66,000 annually.
The city also saves more than $13,000 annually on internal Internet expenses. It uses its own fiber instead of contracting with a commercial firm.
There are certainly more possibilities for cost-savings; however, the greatest benefit can be found in the potential for increasing revenues.
There is a new technology emerging called “white space.” In simple terms, if the federal government sells bandwidth 1-5, it next sells 7-9, leaving bandwidth 6 unused. The new technology is able to use bandwidth 6 and allows access to broadband for a distance of three to five miles, depending on buildings in between. This would enable coverage of the entire city with very few antennas. As an example, Microsoft uses only antennae to service its entire campus. The antenna used for fiber optics is not a huge cell phone antenna; rather it is about the size of a pizza box with ears.
As technology is moving forward, it may allow us to create a citywide (or almost citywide) network. We could cover the downtown now. That means everyone could have a wireless internet connection at a much lower cost by buying the connection from the city, while the city could have a large and steady revenue stream. The City, CTAC and the CEDC are working together to evaluate and develop a plan on how to best implement the technology to the best advantage to the City. This will, however, take time and analysis before this can come to fruition.
In addition, we are working with three new customers for our current technology who will be ready to come on line in the first half of 2012. Some city resources are needed to make this happen, notably time from IT and Public Works, but this could happen soon.
The city is making money with its fiber sales; current revenue is more than $25,000 annually. It could make more, potentially lots more. This is not an easy process for a city and it will take a new business model and an entrepreneurial spirit. For example, big broadband customers need redundancy in the system, so that if there is a breakdown in one part, the back-up makes everything run smoothly. A private entrepreneur would view the cost of building this redundancy as part of necessary start-up costs. Government has not traditionally thought this way about expenses. But we need to build in the redundancy if we want to grow our customer base to ensure a big revenue stream for the city.
It is up to us, the citizens of Edmonds, and our elected officials to determine the route Edmonds financial future will follow. A little creative thinking can go a long way.