Update 7/14/2022** Members of Mesa city government contacted Fierce Telecom after this story was published. Their perspective is included in an update at the bottom of this story.
The city council of Mesa, Arizona, voted this week to approve four different providers to build an open access network, or possibly open access networks (plural), to serve its more than 220,000 homes and businesses in the greater Phoenix area.
Fierce Telecom reached out to the city of Mesa and will update this story with any clarification as to exactly what the city council is envisioning. But Bawtree-Jobson indicated that at this point it is open-ended as to who’s going to build what and in what proportions. But he said, “I wouldn’t envision fiber networks overbuilding fiber networks. It will be interesting to see how it pans out."
From its perspective, the Mesa contract is a big win for SiFi Networks. Its largest city to date is Arlington, Texas, with fiber passing 174,000 units.
Mesa wants an open-access fiber network, and Bawtree-Jobson said in his view SiFi is the best suited to provide that. It delivers a complete end-to-end solution all the way from the data centers to the residential gateway in the home or business. And it populates the network with, not only fiber, but everything necessary from equipment to cabinets.
After the network is built, it will be used by SiFi to support ISPs that want to offer internet services and smart city applications with speeds as high as 10 Gbps symmetrical. Services will be available at prices from $59.95 per month.
SiFi says the Mesa project could potentially cost it $400 million, which SiFi will privately fund. One of its investors is APG, a large European pension fund.
SiFi’s multi-year construction project will use micro-trenching technology, which buries fiber cables more shallow and in narrower trenches than regular trenching. Bawtree-Jobson said, “There will be other techniques used, but micro-trenching will be our primary method of rollout. We’re probably one of the first to use it at large scale and advocate for it on a large scale. We are very much in the weeds in terms of quality control and making sure the streets are maintained in appropriate condition.”
Currently, SiFi is working on fiber buildouts in seven cities, and it has another 20 in engineering, including Mesa.
Google Fiber, which also got the nod from Mesa government, had originally announced plans eight years ago to expand into the Phoenix area, but then nixed those plans.
Google Fiber has also employed micro-trenching in some of its fiber builds across the U.S. And it’s done at least one open-access-type fiber build — in Des Moines, Iowa. Although Bawtree-Jobson indicated that SiFi’s open access is a more complete offering than other providers, in his opinion.
Ian Linssen, assistant to the Mesa City Manager, said the city’s main goal was to ensure greater connectivity in the city through private-sector investment. “It was never the city’s intent to pick one provider,” he said. The city received a “very robust response” to its RFI and selected the four providers.
The next step is for the providers to contact Mesa’s right-of-way department and begin the permitting process.
Linssen said the RFI did not mandate that new fiber networks be open access. He said SiFi Networks and Generate Ubiquity proposed open access, but the other two providers — Wyyerd and Google Fiber — did not, and that’s OK with the city.
Asked how the four providers will figure out who is building what infrastructure and where, Linssen said, “We never dictate where providers go. That’s the plan here. We really think the market would know best. In some cases there may be overbuilding. It will be up to the providers to make sure their business models work. They might want to think about building together if that makes sense.”
Mesa’s Vice Mayor Jenn Duff said, “I think going in this approach allows us to get the fiber across the city in a quicker way. If we were constrained to one provider, it would take years to cover.”
Duff and Linssen said all four ISPs will be privately funded, not using any taxpayer monies.
There have been instances in the past where private companies have built broadband infrastructure in a city, only to be slapped with a lawsuit by an incumbent provider. Asked if Mesa would support these four providers if anything like that happened, Linssen said “support” would be too strong of a word. He said it isn’t giving any “special benefits” to providers but wants to “let the market do its thing.”