Politics, government and public life for Southern California

City of Los Angeles hopes to establish citywide Internet access

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Thirty percent of L.A. residents can't access the Internet via a high-speed connection and one city councilman wants to change that — but doing so will take years and cost billions of dollars. 

Los Angeles City Councilman Bob Blumenfield announced Monday the city will spend the next month seeking input from vendors and industry experts on how the city can bring wired and wireless broadband Internet to homes and businesses.

In the next three to six months, Internet providers may have a chance to bid on a contract to wire the city. 

"This is important in order to maintain global competitiveness," Blumenfield said at a Monday morning news conference.  "The Internet has become as essential a utility as water, power, gas or anything else." 

The general manager of the city's Information Technology Agency estimates it would take five years to build the system. Building a broadband network that reaches every home and business could cost as much as $5 billion, but city officials hope a private company will pick up that tab.

In exchange for that investment, a wireless provider could gain access to the city's infrastructure and a potential network of customers. The most basic Internet connection might be provided at no cost, but for the most part there would be fees attached for most services. 

Seven years ago, then-Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa proposed a similar scenario for equipping the entire city with wireless Internet. Under the proposed public-private partnership, a vendor would pay for the installation, which would be done with the city's infrastructure, including light poles and rooftops. That effort was later abandoned. 

Blumenfield said the city's renewed effort should have a better chance at being implemented because technology is faster and cheaper than in 2007.

"The reality is that we're going to maximize the leverage of our assets," said Deputy Mayor Rick Cole. "This is to the 21st century what railroads were to the 19th century, what an electricity network was in the 20th century. You couldn't do without it."

As for the possible loss of business for current Internet providers, Blumenfield said: “In a proposal like this that is so massive, you’re going to have winners and losers. There’s always going to be somebody who wanted to get it, wanted to be part of it but they didn’t, and they’re going to sue and all the rest. That happens. Will there be resistance? Of course there will be.” 

Other municipalities are attempting to create citywide networks, though none approach the scale of Los Angeles. Google is working toward establishing networks in Austin and Kansas City. Chattanooga, Tennessee has a network that's in operation.


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