County launches request for participants to build multibillion dollar fiber-optic network countywide

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Editor’s note: This is from a Riverside County press release.

On Monday, Riverside County issued a call for private-sector partners interested in developing the nation’s largest broadband network, a project that would stimulate economic growth, improve healthcare capabilities, expand educational opportunities, and make high-speed networks available to all residents and businesses countywide.

The RIVCOconnect Broadband Initiative is a $2 billion to $4 billion public-private partnership with the goal of building a gigabit fiber network. This project marks the first time in the nation a regional public/private partnership has worked to deploy fiber optic infrastructure on such a large scale in partnership with multiple local governments.

The project does not rely on taxpayer dollars, and the county and its cities are not seeking to own or operate this fiber network. Rather, RIVCOconnect is designed to facilitate the private sector’s deployment of a fiber network. It will interest network providers because, over time, they already will need to build fiber infrastructure themselves to reach and serve customers. The public/private partnership is attractive because a network of municipal partners could make construction and deployment far less expensive.

In the request, the county is seeking participants interested in building the gigabit network. Responses are due Aug. 15, and a telecommunications partner or partners will be selected in the fall to build out the gigabit fiber network.

The county’s 7,200 square miles contain nearly one million homes, apartments, businesses and institutions that need high-speed internet access. Broadband grows more important daily because vast amounts of data must be transmitted quickly and efficiently to support hospitals and medical offices, school systems, businesses and other needs. Businesses and service providers commonly locate their operations in areas where high-speed broadband is readily available, unlike in the Riverside County region. If the initiative can deploy gigabit service, the county and its partners could offer businesses worldwide, affordable, high-speed internet access, a lower cost-of-living than much of urbanized California, and access to a large local labor pool.

Collaborating local jurisdictions — the county, its 28 cities and participating tribal nations — have adopted a common resolution to support the effort. Each partner has agreed to streamline and expedite often cumbersome permitting processes.

Among the ideas are “dig-once” policies that allow fiber conduits to be installed whenever a roadway is opened for construction and coordinating activities countywide through a single point of contact. Those ideas and others could help eliminate hurdles that could amount to as much as 30 percent of construction costs, potentially saving hundreds of millions of dollars on such a project.

A gigabit network can stream high-definition video content with little to no delays, enabling smoother use of Facetime, Skype, Facebook, Google and other streaming services without poor video quality, buffering or disconnection due to unavailable bandwidth. Gigabit Internet is the next generation of broadband technology and it is 159 times faster than the global broadband average of 6.3 Mbps.

A significant part of the RIVCOconnect broadband plan involves working with the selected broadband partner, and with other organizations in the county, in an effort to close the Digital Divide. It has been a county priority to enable residents to participate fully in the economy. Beyond that goal, a gigabit network also benefits broadband providers because it creates new market opportunities.

For a copy of the request for proposal, and more information about the project, visit www.rivcoconnect.org.

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