Jim Stifler could feel the frustration of emerging business owners in the city of Hudson. They wanted better options for internet service and if they couldn’t get it, they might be forced to look elsewhere.
“These are businesses we want to keep for the next 30 years,” says Stifler, the city’s economic development director. “At the time, the city had its own small private fiber network to connect city offices. We operate an electric company and a water utility. So our city council said, ‘Hey, you already have a little fiber network. And you have people barking at you from the business community. Could we build on this tiny fiber network that you have?’ We determined that might be a good place to start.”
It was 2014 and the first step to creating Velocity Broadband, the city’s very own broadband company, had been taken.
“This is not a public-private partnership,” Stifler says. “We did this entirely ourselves. The other differentiator is we are also the internet service provider. We didn’t just build a network and go to someone else and say, ‘Light it up.’”
It’s estimated that Velocity Broadband will have about 80 businesses signed up by the end of this year and Stifler’s goal is to have 180 businesses in the fold by the end of 2017.
“We have attracted some very significant recent development here,” Stifler says. “Hudson has had a nice reputation, but it was seen as just a nice place to live. We’re in a position now to be seen as a great place to live and work.”
There’s even talk of making service available to the city’s 7,900 homes. But the first priority has been to satisfy the business sector.
‘Let’s do this’
The effort to create Velocity Broadband began with the hiring of a consultant.
“We have four primary business areas,” Stifler says. “We said, ‘What would it take to get to these areas?’ The consultant helped us with surveys of businesses and proved the concept, and then helped us build a roadmap. That included a pro forma, financials and then a design for the network.”
Next, city officials reached out to the two local internet service providers and asked if they wanted to partner up with the city in some way on the project. One of the companies told the city it didn’t want to build on top of existing lines.
“The other one wanted us to put so much money into the partnership with them that we thought we could do it ourselves,” Stifler says. “So we turned to our IT team and our electric utility and said, ‘Let’s do this.’”
Velocity Broadband is the first municipally owned private fiber optic network in Northeast Ohio and one of fewer than a dozen such entities in the United States, but it’s not the first in Ohio. Dublin, a city in Franklin, Delaware and Union counties in central Ohio, was the first.
Dublin had about a dozen internet service providers operating within its borders and they did not respond well to the city’s move to build its own broadband company. Many threatened legal action to stop the city.
The negotiations in Hudson were less contentious and the city’s experience operating utility-type businesses gave officials confidence they would make a successful entry into the broadband business.
“Running our own electric company provided a huge advantage,” Stifler says. “Hudson is a reasonably mature town and the electric company has been here for a long time. We had the know-how, the bandwidth and the personnel to spend the time to do this. So it saved us a considerable amount of money. In the older parts of town where the work needed to be done above the ground, we were in the electric space and had the know-how to do that work.”
The response to the city’s move was positive and the process to get everything up and running was relatively smooth, with only a few hiccups along the way.
“We were building a broadband network and we have voice over internet phones, but we didn’t understand how popular phones would be,” Stifler says. “In addition to getting you connected to broadband, we had to connect a good number of these, 40 or 50, to phones.”
A priority on service
There are conversations taking place about bringing the broadband service to the city’s more than 22,000 residents in the near future. But Hudson officials felt it was important to prioritize and focus on providing exemplary service to the businesses first, before looking at offering the same high-quality amenities to residents.
“We’re entering a business where you really have to execute it well,” Stifler says. “Service has to be paramount. You have to build in the redundancies and the safeguards that will protect your good name. That is a more complicated part of the bill and it makes offering the service more expensive.”
If all goes according to plan, Velocity Broadband could become a significant revenue generator for the city.
“We have some great places to develop industrial and office buildings,’ he says. “The fact that we have broadband is enhancing our narrative.” ●
How to reach: Velocity Broadband, (330) 342-9544 or www.hudson.oh.us/777/velocity-broadband