Citywide broadband infrastructure on the horizon in Farmington area

By: Zachary Manning | Farmington Press | Published June 9, 2021

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FARMINGTON/FARMINGTON HILLS — During a special meeting May 26, the Farmington and Farmington Hills city councils unanimously approved a permit application from SiFi Networks to construct a community-wide fiber-optic broadband network.

Officials say the application is significant for the two cities as it brings upwards of $150 million in private investment to construct, operate and maintain a 680-mile network of internet infrastructure.

The idea stemmed from resident concerns over different service providers not living up to expectations and an increasing need for more options in the two cities.

“It’s extremely important, because the internet is really the backbone of our society today,” Joint Municipal Broadband Task Force Chair Aaron Paluzzi said. “The internet is as much of a requirement as heat, electricity and water for residents nowadays.”

The task force, formed in 2018 by the two cities, recommended a feasibility study for the construction of the fiber-optic network. The cities commissioned the study in 2020, and the results were presented at a joint city council meeting Jan. 25.

Paluzzi noted that while the task force was created in 2018, he had been working on the idea for a couple of years prior. In the report, SiFi Networks was cited as a potential private funding partner for a broadband construction project.

Farmington Mayor Pro Tem Joe LaRussa noted that this infrastructure will extend to all residents of Farmington and Farmington Hills. He noted that there are still a few kinks to work out, but he expects every residence across the two cities will be able to access the network.

The big difference of what this infrastructure will provide compared to other providers is the equality of upload and download speeds.

He noted that a lot of providers today offer a high download speed, but the upload speeds are weaker. With this plan, both upload and download speeds would be similar.

“A lot of times, the plans that you’ll buy today from the incumbent providers are asymmetric. You get a higher download speed, because a lot of people consume a lot of bandwidth downloading HD videos or a lot of heavy content, but the upload speed is very, very sparse,” LaRussa said. “In my case, I only get 3 megabytes per second upload speed. As an automotive guy, if I’m working from home and I’m trying to use a resource-heavy application like a CAD or a computer-aided engineering application that needs to shove a lot of information back through the pipe into the corporate system, that’s a bottleneck.”

With the councils’ approval, the permit application will be finalized in collaboration with the two cities’ administrations. Once that is finalized, a planning process will likely be established to examine how broadband internet infrastructure fits into existing economic and community development plans.

With affordability and choice in mind, the plan is to have the network be offered to residents at a cost of about $60 per month. LaRussa noted that he believes this type of infrastructure could be around for residents in 2023 or 2024.

LaRussa and Paluzzi both note that this will improve the quality of living for residents already in the two cities and be another strong characteristic to highlight when promoting the area.

“It’s going to help people on multiple levels. It’s going to help them individually, it’s going to help the community, and it’s really going to help our businesses, giving them a benefit that they really can’t find anywhere else in the state,” LaRussa said.