Broadband Master Plan: Q&A with the City of Fremont Director of IT Sandy Taylor
Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, many have relied on internet access for remote work and learning, proving how essential broadband is for the livelihood of Americans and the growth of businesses.
To address the lack of broadband in rural areas and cities, President Joe Biden’s recently rolled out American Jobs Plan calls for a $100 billion investment, ensuring high-speed broadband is accessible and affordable for everyone. The underpinning theme of the plan is that broadband needs to be treated as a basic need, not a luxury that Americans must splurge on. To realize this goal, the plan offers incentives for companies and individuals who continue cooperating and reducing the cost of broadband long term.
In Fremont, we’re assessing our own broadband infrastructure and areas for improvement. Last month, we announced a partnership with Magellan Advisors to assist in developing a Broadband Master Plan. The proposed plan will develop strategies for the use and deployment of broadband infrastructure, which enables economic development and smart city initiatives for the future and addresses digital inequities in our community.
Our partnership with Magellan Advisors will outline a plan to expand our existing high-speed fiber network to connect City facilities, public safety IoT devices, and fire stations, while equipping the City of Fremont with the means to deploy smart city technologies, address digital equity, and support future broadband applications jointly with private sector investment.
We spoke with the City of Fremont’s Director of Information Technology, Sanford “Sandy” Taylor, about the new broadband initiative, how Magellan Advisors’ capabilities assist in developing a strategic plan, and more.
Q: In what ways will the Broadband Master Plan differ from the digital initiatives in President Biden’s American Jobs plan?
President Biden’s plan caters to rural areas. Although we do have some underserved areas, Fremont is different in that we have the advantage of being a part of Silicon Valley. That being said, Fremont’s challenges still include issues stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic. For instance, some children in our community struggled with not having broadband access during distance learning programs. Our new plan will address community problems like this and analyze options for expanding broadband assets to our residents.
President Biden’s plan aims to provide affordable, high-quality, and reliable broadband internet to promote widespread adoption, and that is our goal as well. It begins with first understanding which areas are not covered by cellular and internet providers. Because these are for-profit companies, they will not roll out service to every single area, and that’s where the City of Fremont comes in. The City will provide broadband to additional areas, becoming more of an extension of the cellular and internet providers and ultimately providing infrastructure that will serve as the “last mile” for carriers and help answer the needs of our community.
Q: Please tell us about Magellan Advisors and what distinguished them from other companies during the selection process?
Earlier in my career, I had the pleasure of working with Magellan Advisors on a previous economic plan to bring broadband to the residents of Manhattan Beach. Given my familiarity with Magellan, I was excited to see what they could bring to the table for Fremont. When evaluating various companies for the partnership, our team was particularly fond of what Magellan had to offer, specifically their phased deployment strategies and thorough process of interviewing Fremont’s various departments to determine the best course of action.
Magellan offered the flexibility required to support Fremont’s unserved and underserved areas and scale broadband resources as needed. They have also taken on the responsibility of reviewing our existing infrastructure, while using their phased approach to maximize efficiency and cost-effectiveness. Their plan will include financial and business modeling, enabling Fremont to pursue shovel-ready projects for the deployment of fiber-optic infrastructure.
Q: What areas of the Broadband Master Plan can we expect to be completed by the end of 2021? What are the long-term goals we can expect to see implemented in the future?
By the end of the year, the Plan will be ready for the Fremont Council to review. It will outline the needs of City departments, community members, and local businesses. After the review process, it will become an actionable plan, and Magellan will be able to determine the costs it will take to get there.
We also will likely perform public outreach after the plan is approved. If we are looking at potentially providing some of the broadband service, we will reach out to the businesses and community members using various community engagement methods we’ve used in the past (town halls, online surveys, etc.) to receive feedback from Fremont residents and businesses about the proposed services.
Q: How will the expansion of broadband further its position as a Smart City within the Bay Area?
In 2017, Fremont initiated a Smart City Action Plan where we identified and formed groups in five focus areas: Mobility, Public Safety, Energy + Environmental, City Operations, and Community Engagement. The City has made great strides in accomplishing priority projects in each focus area, from completing the Deployed Constituent Request Management System in 2020 to launching a pilot network-based preemption system. We’ve also improved community engagement efforts, such as launching The Fremont Connection, a new online newsletter powered by GovDelivery.
The City has also begun working on smart mobility initiatives, including the Fremont Boulevard Safe and Smart Corridor project that demonstrates complete streets design concepts, sensor-based infrastructure, communications systems, smart lighting, traffic signal modernization, and connected vehicles/infrastructure/devices to achieve a number of objectives for the corridor. These include Fremont’s Vision Zero traffic safety goals, efficient multimodal mobility, sustainability, and strategically urban development along Fremont Boulevard.
There are many more smart city projects in each focus area; as we continue to build our fiber network, we will be able to address quite a few more. If we can get to a point where we can have a municipal fiber backbone that touches all the main areas of the city, our goal to make Fremont a truly smart city will become achievable.
Q: Anything else you’d like to add?
I would encourage all municipalities to go through an exercise like this because it is so important for local governments to understand the current broadband reach in their respective cities. For example, many individuals in City field services have to go through a long process just to complete a work order due to driving back to their offices to log into a system. But imagine if instead of having to make that commute, they could connect to Wi-Fi via the municipal backbone and expedite processes from parks and other more remote areas. Ultimately, both cities and residents will benefit from a broadband assessment exercise as we understand how we can make everyone’s work and daily lives easier by offering broadband service in areas previously underserved.
To learn more about the Broadband Master Plan, you can read about it in our press release.