The city plans to expand and improve its technological infrastructure including its fiber optic network which will finally connect all city sites. Photo: City of Long Beach presentation
The Long Beach City Council voted Tuesday to move forward with plans to reshape the city’s technology infrastructure, instructing the city manager’s office to begin outreach efforts for contracts to expand the city’s fiber network and upgrade its software, cyber security and other systems before eventually submitting them to the council for approval.
The council’s vote comes just over a month since city staff briefed the council on the city’s growing needs to replace outdated hardware and software, with a pressing need to move forward seen in the construction of the new civic center and linking it through the fiber network to other city sites. The cost estimates presented in October, including $21 million to update the city’s emergency services’ communication abilities is about $88 million.
“During the past decade or so we’ve focused a lot on streets, sidewalks, buildings and roads but not so much on technology,” said City Manager Pat West. “During the last couple of years we’ve conducted a major review of technology infrastructure throughout the city, this review has turned up that we have big needs to be the 21st century technology city that the community, council, commissions all want us to be.”
Tuesday night’s vote sets in motion the process to address some of those needs, although the emergency services item regarding radio upgrades for the city’s fire and police departments was left off until a later date.
The city hopes to build out a fiber network that would link all of its city facilities (libraries, department buildings, parks) with broadband internet that could not only improve speeds, but save the city money as it would no longer have to pay private internet service providers for access to the web. City staff has estimated that expanding the city’s fiber network could result in savings of up to $400,000 annually.
However, questions arose from the council on how the projects would be funded. The costs would be rolled into next year’s fiscal budget which will be debated in 2019 and be finalized next September, so how the improvements would be paid for—and what could be cut as a result—has yet to be determined.
Long Beach Director of Financial Management John Gross said that by putting the costs into the budget in an annual basis the city could avoid future conversations like the one that occurred Tuesday night, where there is an overdue project with no identified funding.
“While that will be painful, it serves one major benefit,” Gross said. “Council has always been interested in resolving unfunded infrastructure costs and unfunded maintenance. By putting this into the budget we will have permanent funding for this equipment so that when it gets old we won’t have this problem again.”
The costs could fluctuate as requests for proposals come back and, as raised Tuesday night, the council opts to go with a lease model rather than own some of the technology purchases. Fifth District Councilwoman Stacy Mungo proposed that the city explore an expanded incentive for a BYOD (bring your own device) approach to the city’s projected $21 million need for its emergency services radio upgrades, pointing out that often times the technology changes so quickly that new radios become outdated soon after purchase.
While the city’s fiber buildout will not include residential access as currently proposed, Director of Technology and Innovation Bryan Sastokas said that the city would be open to seeking out private-public partnerships to lease the fiber backbone the city plans to build so that private ISPs could capitalize on its footprint. To what extent a private entity like Charter or Frontier would be open to such a partnership is yet to be seen as both companies have been silent on the city’s fiber buildout plans.
The city’s presentation on technology needs and the vote to move forward came in the middle of a month of reporting by a collaborative by area newspapers on the growing digital divide in the city of Long Beach where over 20 percent of the city lacks wired broadband access at home. The proposed buildout would include some 61 miles of fiber put into the ground which would provide a skeleton of access within two miles of any point in the city, according to Sastokas.
Expanding the network will benefit libraries—some residents’ primary access point for internet—that are currently not part of the city’s fiber grid like those on the city’s eastern and western flanks, as well as link city buildings like the Health and Human Services Department and police stations to the network. While there is potential for further growth in the future, the feeling among many on the council was that action was needed sooner rather than later to upgrade the city’s “obsolete” tech infrastructure.
“We have let all of our systems fall apart. We’re doing our time cards on paper,” said Mayor Robert Garcia. “In many ways we have moved forward in so many areas but for some reason the investments in technology, especially when the recession hit, all got pushed to the bottom of the list so here we are today.”