More of Auburn to get broadband Internet access

Many call it “crossing the digital divide,” though by now, the phrase has demorphed into a fairly hackneyed, bloodless thing.

“Digital parity,” now, there’s a bit of phraseology the techies at Auburn City Hall can byte into.

“It expresses our fundamental belief that all people should have access to broadband,” Paul Haugan, the City of Auburn’s Information Technology director, said of the expression.

Not only is the notion of “digital parity” creating a buzz around City Hall, it’s happening, on the ground, indeed has been rolling merrily along since late last fall, taking initial shape as a pilot program in south Auburn.

The goal is for 80 percent of Auburn’s residents to have access to the Internet by 2020, even outside the usual services, and places like Starbucks or McDonald’s.

The pilot program, coupled with some major advances in the City’s infrastructure expansion, has allowed Haugan and everyone involved to broaden the City’s proposed wireless foot print from a small blob on an Auburn map to a much larger area, and for less money.

“We’ve got a big coverage footprint in downtown Auburn going down Auburn Way South to Game Farm Park. It is one of those low-income hot spots that is a perfect place to start,” Haugan said.

All that’s missing now, Haugan added, is the power supply, and that was to have arrived in Auburn this week.

“When we do the installation on that, we will increase our footprint by about 400 percent. And it covers the high-density, low-income schools that we wanted to get. That was our goal at the beginning. So, cross your fingers, hopefully, we’ll have people in bucket trucks out there next week actually turning these things on,” Haugan said.

The advanced technology will, in the not-to-distant future, extend north, Haugan said, and from there branch out to other schools, but for now, the builders are busy creating the “seed access points.”

Haugan praised the City Attorney’s office for working with his staff to sort out the legalities of the public-private partnerships so crucial to the project, and the departments of Community Development and Public Works for their help with the infrastructure expansion, and for working with vendors to open up relationships and allow a sharing of resources.

“We now have, due to this work, picked up four miles of high-speed fiber optic cable to Lea Hill. That was an area that we had far down on our list because of the cost involved, which was approximately $1.5 million for us to do the construction on that project. But because of the work the City engineer and her staff and the City Attorney’s office did, we were able to cut a deal that cost us zero. And we now have high-speed fiber optics into Lea Hill,” Haugan said.

And with fiber optics into Lea Hill, Haugan expects to have the Lea Hill substation on line within a m0nth, opening things up to engineering for wireless coverage on Lea Hill, benefitting schools and pockets now without coverage.

Haugan emphasized that the City is not competing with Comcast or any other service provider, it is simply trying to leverage what it has to help people out.

“Comcast has a low-income program that people may apply for. Low-income programs are great, we love ‘em, but we have discovered there are people out there who have to make the decision to put food on the table or pay for Internet. Doesn’t work with my heart that they have to make that decision,” Haugan said.

“… This is team Auburn at work. I really want to drive that home. This works because we work together,” Haugan said.

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