An agreement between the city and Greenlight Networks could build a bridge over the digital divide, which is more like a chasm since COVID-19 has exposed differences in access to the internet.
The master license agreement is expected to expand availability of the company’s high-speed service to residents and businesses.
Greenlight, which promotes high-speed internet starting at $50 a month, is in 11,000 households in the city. It has some presence in affordable housing units and areas along Lake Avenue, but for the most part it has not made inroads into lower-income neighborhoods. According to the announcement April 21, Greenlight plans to restart construction in the Park Avenue and Cobbs Hill neighborhoods before moving to other areas.
Greenlight’s model is to wait for enough customers in a neighborhood to sign up to make it economically feasible for the company. Would-be customers often encourage neighbors to sign up so the company has the critical mass in that area. The logistics also involve getting easements from property owners to install fiber and permission from utilities to have access to their poles.
In announcing the master license agreement April 21, Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren said the city and Greenlight would work to identify areas most in need of internet service.
The lack of service in some neighborhoods has been evident as schools closed because of the COVID-19 and the Rochester City School District had to devise ways to continue education. The district has distributed Chromebooks to upper grades but acknowledged that not all homes have internet connections.
The master license agreement defines the cost and application process for Greenlight to obtain right-of-way permits for its underground and aerial facilities. The agreement has to be approved by City Council, but work can proceed while the legislation is being reviewed.
The agreement is not exclusive, so residents still will be able to choose their internet provider. Warren said Neighborhood Service Centers would provide information to residents who wanted to sign up for Greenlight.
The agreement allows for Greenlight to provide in-kind services in lieu of fee payments. Warren said that could include providing the services to recreation centers and police and fire stations. Asked if that could mean reduced rates based on household income, Warren said that those details have not been worked out. The total dollar amount of Greenlight’s in-kind services can be negotiated. The document is not yet public.
The agreement is part of the city’s Telecommunications Code. The agreement supports the city’s Dig Once policy by timing Greenlight’s expansion with road projects. That reduces the need for streets repeatedly to be dug up, saving wear and tear on pavement.