Mayor Bibb proposes broadband legislation to close Cleveland’s digital divide; leverage $20 million City effort into over $420 million in additional investments
Two-part plan includes state-of-the-art infrastructure and brings affordable, high-speed internet service to all Cleveland residents for just $18 per month
Friday, May 5, 2023 – Cleveland – Mayor Justin M. Bibb is proposing two initiatives that will result in a citywide fiber optic network and affordable, high-quality internet access for all residents. According to the latest U.S. Census data, approximately 35 percent of Cleveland residents do not have at-home broadband internet. These targeted investments, proposed as a result of legislation passed by Cleveland City Council, will help close that digital divide – one of the ten priorities identified in Mayor Bibb’s Rescue & Transformation Plan.
“Internet access should be a right for all Cleveland residents and not a privilege for only those who can afford it,” said Mayor Bibb. “In this day and age everything can be done online – from essentials like accessing medical information and managing finances, to taking educational classes or career development courses. These two initiatives will break down the digital barriers and ensure everyone in Cleveland, regardless of income, has access to this fundamental right.”
Today, the Bibb Administration submitted two pieces of legislation for Council approval: a $20 million proposal from local nonprofit DigitalC to provide citywide affordable internet access, and an agreement with SiFi Networks who will privately invest over $400 million to deploy a citywide fiber optic network without any public financing. Both will be presented at the next City Council meeting on Monday, May 8.
DigitalC is a Cleveland-based nonprofit internet service provider. The proposed $20 million American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) investment will go towards infrastructure buildout, implementation, and service management – expanding the speeds and reach of their current low-cost network throughout the City. Once in place, all Cleveland residents – regardless of income level or neighborhood – will be eligible to subscribe for high-speed internet service at $18 per month.
“It was important to me that any agreement we enter into would provide service to every single Clevelander. No one can be left behind,” said Cleveland City Councilman Brian Kazy, chairman of the Utilities Committee.
The funds will also be used to expand DigitalC’s nationally recognized digital adoption model for digital literacy training services, direct assistance in signing up for federal programs like the Affordable Connectivity Program, and grassroots, door-to-door outreach efforts. This also includes commitments from two dozen community partners who share the same vision for closing the digital divide and will host on-site navigators, identify referrals, and provide additional training seminars.
DigitalC already offers access to thousands of households in Cleveland. They plan to expand their coverage to all 170,000+ households within 18 months of signing a contract with the City, pending City Council approval.
“Two-thirds of our city lacks access to quality broadband internet. We hope this partnership leads to robust conversations about closing the digital divide for Clevelanders of all ages,” said Cleveland City Council President Blaine Griffin.
To support this effort, DigitalC brings its own financial reserves to the table as well as a $20 million commitment from the Jack, Joseph, and Morton Mandel Foundation and the David and Inez Myers Foundation.
SiFi Networks Agreement
Under the proposed agreement, SiFi Networks will install and operate an underground fiber optic network throughout Cleveland at no cost to the city. SiFi expects to invest over $400 million into building the network.
SiFi Networks is a fiber network developer who wholesales their fiber to service providers. They have a national footprint whose client base includes over 40 cities across eleven states. According to the latest Federal Communications Commission data, no other city in Ohio, and no other major metropolitan area in the Great Lakes, can boast a universal, citywide fiber optic network.
“SiFi’s investment in Cleveland has the potential to transform our economy for generations,” added Mayor Bibb. “We’re raising both our floor with DigitalC – by ensuring every single resident has access to high-quality, affordable internet – and our ceiling with SiFi – by ensuring universal access to the infrastructure of the 21st century. Together, these future-forward investments will improve the daily lives of our residents today while putting Cleveland in the best position to attract new businesses and residents in the future.”
Upon legislative approval, SiFi will begin design and procurement, which may take up to two years, before commencing construction, which will take up to five additional years to complete. The network, which will be funded entirely by SiFi, will be available to every home and business in Cleveland.