BROWNSVILLE, Texas, April 1, 2022 – At a special city commission meeting on Wednesday, members of council voted to approve a fiber project that will bring broadband to 100% of its citizens.
Elizabeth WalkerDeputy City Manager of Brownsville, and Andres CarvalloCEO and Founder of CMG Consulting LLC, recommended that the Board allow two Respondents, HMI Utilities with Lit Communities, for a combined proposal to maximize technical and financial capability.
Brownsville, Texas is a city of over 182,000 and is one of the cities that some have called the worst broadband city in the country.. In 2018, the National Digital Inclusion Alliance ranked Brownsville and a nearby community among the two worst-connected cities in the nation with a population of over 65,000. For Brownsville, 47.1% of households have no type of broadband, according to the NDIA
Lit Communities, a fiber builder that partners with municipalities, counties and other government entities, will operate the network, with HMI Utilities as prime contractor. Lit Communities’ subsidiary, BTX Fiber, will be the last mile provider on the network. However, the project will be an open network with multiple Internet Service Providers.
Standard service on the network will be at least 100 megabits per second (Mbps) symmetrical.
The research for this project began almost a year ago, in April 2021, when Walker and Carvallo looked at different business models, such as public policy only, public services, open access, infrastructure, commerce municipal retail (business only and residential). They looked at these models in similar projects in Texas and across the country, including places like Knoxville and Santa Cruz County. Eventually, they opted for an open-access model.
Specificities of the Brownsville network
All citizens will have access to this broadband. “It’s eight medium-mile fiber rings to cover all of Brownsville’s geography,” Walker said.
The city will own 100% of the mid-mile and can license it through public-private partnerships to generate revenue, as well as revenue from last-mile connectivity. To ensure affordability, there will be a cap on what providers can charge.
Affordability “is very important,” Walker said. “The main consideration is just not to provide access, but to make it affordable.”
This infrastructure will have a life expectancy of 50 to 100 years, Walker said.
Walker said “Evidence suggests that broadband services have a positive net economic and social impact on communities by improving key functions such as economic competitiveness, workforce development, training, educational capacities, municipal operations and the development of smart cities”.
This is part of Lit Communities’ public-private partnership model. The company recently partnered with Ohio’s Lorain-Medina Rural Electric Cooperative to install fiber on existing utility poles. In these projects, the municipality in question provides the capital needed to build a core or backbone network.
“We don’t stop with these initial clusters of cities that we’re looking at and working in right now,” said Rene Gonzalez, Chief Strategy Officer of Lit Communities. “This is just the beginning.”