Arlington ‘fiber city’ plan no longer attainable, city says. How other companies may fill the void

dfwnewsa | March 20, 2024 | 0 | Fort Worth , Fort Worth News

Arlington ‘fiber city’ plan no longer attainable, city says. How other companies may fill the void

The city of Arlington will work with internet service providers to provide fiber internet to all households and businesses in town after the company SiFi Networks told the city it was unable to actualize a 2021 agreement to build a citywide network. (Shutterstock | Shutterstock)
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For some Arlington residents over the years, access to high-speed internet and fiber has persistently lingered out of reach.

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Tracy Winkles and her central Arlington neighbors petitioned AT&T in 2005 to expand services to their neighborhood. At the time, her home was out of network range, and she said she was told by an AT&T employee that the company did not want to expand its connection. Winkles was not satisfied with having only one other option for an internet service provider.

“There was no fairness to us because we’re just stuck,” she said. “If you want internet, you’re going to use this one provider, and they’re going to charge you what they want to charge.”

Winkles and her neighbors recently heard again they were “too far away” to access fiber internet, or a broadband connection that can bring faster, more reliable connections than cable internet.

“You market all these great programs and services to an entire community or neighborhood or network, yet you’re going to pick and choose what pocket you’re going into because we’re 100 yards away?” Winkles said.

City officials want all residents to have access to fiber internet. However, after an agreement fell through for one company to build a citywide network, the city will have to rely on more companies to build their own – then work with other companies to fill in the gaps.

The city and company SiFi Networks inked an agreement in 2021 that the company heralded as a way to “close the digital divide,” according to a press release at the time. SiFi was responsible for building a citywide network and recruiting internet service providers to use it. The goal was to encourage competition for the best deal to residents and freedom of choice.

However, SiFi notified the city in December it could not follow through on the original plan because of declining interest from internet service providers, less room to put down a network and increased competition for the coverage area, according to a January report to city council.

Internet service providers have ramped installation of fiber networks in Arlington over the last couple years. AT&T and the young Plano-based provider Novos plan to install network access to 42,000 homes this year, city spokesperson Susan Schrock said.

Nora Coronado, city asset management director, said providers are projected to bring the city’s coverage area to 80% over the next couple of years. The city will work with other internet service providers to fill in the pockets that other providers do not reach.

“What the city desires is ubiquitous coverage for residents and businesses,” Coronado wrote.

Internet service providers leading construction

Coverage in Arlington jumped over 9% between 2022 and 2023 to 35.7% of the city parcel area, according to a January report to Arlington City Council.

Novos and AT&T received the most permits to install their fiber networks over the last couple of years, with efforts concentrated in the western region of town near Lake Arlington.

Novos in November announced its launch into Arlington, a $20 million initial investment.

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Andrew Snead, Novos CEO, said his company was drawn to Arlington for both the city investment in redevelopment and attracting business, paired with the city’s lack of fiber connectivity.

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“We tend to want to be the first fiber provider. When we looked at Arlington, when we did our analysis, it was clear that there was a significant number of homes and small businesses that were not served by fiber,” Snead said.

Snead said the company will work on installation to around 14,000 homes this year. Novos also recently launched installations in McKinney and will soon announce a third city where they will install services.

Traye Kenerly, assistant vice president for fiber planning at AT&T, said the company has built out its network in Arlington since 2015 and adds access to 10,000 to 15,000 households per year. AT&T provides fiber access to 82,000 homes, and the company is about halfway towards their goal of covering 90-95% of households.

“Our plan is to cover pretty much most of the city of Arlington. It along with several other cities in the Dallas metro are high on our priority list,” Kenerly said.

Putting eggs in other ISP baskets

City Manager Trey Yelverton told Arlington City Council members in January that the original deal with SiFi Networks for citywide service is off, but he remains interested in working with the company on a smaller project.

“We need to put our eggs in some other baskets that we have not done because we’ve waited on SiFi,” Yelverton said during the meeting.

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A SiFi spokesperson said in an email the company plans to continue working with the city, but would not confirm whether the company could still fulfill a citywide project. The spokesperson did not make SiFi executives available for an interview.

Coronado said the city will work with SiFi and other developers to determine project areas.

In the meantime, installations from other providers continue – and so does the wait for some residents.

Tom Weeks said he would switch to AT&T Fiber for his home near Lake Arlington. For now, he relies on a Verizon 5G plan with speeds that range from 100 to 300 megabits per session depending on time of day and demand.

“If AT&T comes by with fiber and I can get one gigabit (per second), then I may consider doing that, but for right now, I think I have a solution that works for me until they get their act together,” he said.

Meanwhile, Novos Fiber employees recently installed connections to Tiffany Sanchez’s home in southwest Arlington. However, plan pricing has her waiting for more options – her current internet plan sits at $40, while the cheapest plan from Novos costs about $60 per month.

“I’m kind of hoping that once Novos puts their stuff in, AT&T comes back and says, ‘Hey, let me use your line,’” Sanchez said.

Got a tip? Email Kailey Broussard at kbroussard@kera.org.

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