Lancaster city’s plan to offer residential internet service may have gotten off to a slow start, but it’s picking up speed.
Make that super high-speed.
When first announced in February 2015 as part of an overall municipal broadband project to improve city services, city officials said the fiber-optic network would allow speeds of 300 megabits per second.
During an update to City Council on Tuesday, an official with installer MAW Communications Inc. said speeds up to 1 gibabits per second will be offered.
How fast is that?
Brian Kelly, MAW’s corporate strategist, said high-speed generally means download speeds of faster than 20 Mbps.
Downloading a standard-definition movie at 20 Mbps would take nearly half an hour, but just 30 seconds at 1 Gbps, he said.
While home installation won’t begin until next year, residents can preregister at LanCityConnect.com.
Anyone who registers by Dec. 31 will have installation fees waived. Registration is non-binding, meaning whoever requests is can decide against installation when it becomes available.
Preregistration interest will help MAW figure how to proceed with installation, Kelly said.
Service will be offered at four levels, ranging from $35 a month for 50 Mbps to $90 a month for 1 Gbps. A subsidized rate will be offered for low-income families.
The rates are less than comparable plans from Comcast and Verizon. Comcast’s top speed, 150 Mbps, is about $83 a month.
Under state law, the city had to offer right-of-first refusal to build such a system to its predominant telecommunications carrier. That’s Verizon, which declined to build such a system in Feb. 2015.
MAW, of Reading, will also allow some residents to get free installation and three months of free service in exchange for feedback so it can work out any kinks with installation, quality and billing, according to Kelly.
That program will be in all four quadrants of the city. Pat Brogan, chief of staff for Mayor Rick Gray, said that will be done “representative of the city’s demographics.”
Currently, no other Pennsylvania municipality offers the public-private partnership Lancaster and MAW are forging.
Kutztown has something similar, but on a smaller scale.
The city is paying MAW $500,000 to install the system, but MAW will make money on installation and a portion of service plan costs. The city will also receive a percentage of subscription revenues.
If people don’t sign up?
“That is a risk,” Kelly said, adding it was unlikely people won’t sign up, given its rates.
Brogan outlined the main reason the city is installing the system: improved city services.
For example, the project will allow remote reading of water meters and police and other city employees won’t need aircards to connect computers to the internet because they’ll be able to connect securely though the network.
Free Wi-Fi will also be offered in public spaces, including parks.
“Our goal really was to make this a smart city,” Brogan said, “... not just how government could use this, but how residents could use this.”
When announced, the city had hoped to begin offering residential service by the end of last year.
Charlotte Katzenmoyer, the city’s public works director, acknowledged the project has gone slower than initially expected.
She attributed that to trying something that’s not been done before and therefor running into the unexpected.
Also, the city decided to add Lancaster Safety Coalition’s camera network all at once, instead of in phases.