ROCKFORD — Internet service could soon become something akin to a utility in Rockford.
City officials are exploring the potential of entering the business of providing residents and businesses with high-speed internet access.
“In this day and age, having reliable, full-service internet service with reliable speed is becoming a basic function that all residents need,” City Administrator Todd Cagnoni said.
Rockford has issued a request for proposals seeking a private company to partner with in order to provide a “white label” high-speed internet service. Responses are due next week.
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It is an exploration made possible by Morristown, New Jersey-based SiFi Networks which plans to break ground on a $200 million citywide fiber optic cable network this spring, officials said. The underground network would be capable of gigabit per second download speeds.
Cagnoni said providing internet access would be somewhat similar to how the city provides water service, but the backbone of the service — the fiber optic cable network — would be privately owned. It is possible that any money the city collects from operations beyond cost, could be invested in bringing internet to low-income households or the city itself.
Other internet service providers are also expected to lease fiber lines on SiFi’s anticipated 1,100-mile network. It would blanket the city, bringing fiber optic cable near every residence and business in the city.
Internet service providers would then tap into the network and bring the internet into Rockford homes and businesses. The hope is that several providers will operate in the city, giving residents more choices, Mayor Tom McNamara said.
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McNamara said if SiFi begins laying cable as expected in the spring, the network could be complete in 2024 or 2025. Rockford wants to be ready by then, the mayor said, to provide residents with a city-operated internet choice.
“It’s something we believe we need to thoroughly vet,” McNamara said. “It could be a huge win for us to bridge the digital divide, provide another option and also bring in revenue to the city of Rockford so that for years to come we wouldn’t have to increase property taxes or look for other sources of revenue.”