After a pandemic-induced pause, the city could finally move forward on its long-planned buildout of a “fiber backbone” that city officials say will increase internet speeds at city facilities and could allow internet service providers to expand their offerings across the city.

The City Council approved a plan to add to the city’s fiber network in 2017 in hopes of better connecting city buildings like libraries and other office spaces, some of which pay third-party providers to connect to the internet.

The city is poised to hire a contractor this year to add dozens of miles to its fiber backbone, something that could be completed by 2027, according to Lea Eriksen, the city’s director of Technology and Innovation.

Eriksen said the project could help the city to expand high-speed internet to community centers and city park facilities, increase bandwidth for the city’s network and connect utilities like traffic signals and cameras throughout the city. It could also help the rollout of services like a 5G network, which relies on a fiber network.

But it could also help bring better internet service to undeserved communities. Eriksen said the expansion would mean that every home in the city would be within 1.5 miles of the city’s fiber network.

The $17 million project is expected to go out to bid in the coming months.

“That was in 2018 dollars but we still think we can get it done,” Eriksen said of the project budget.

Long Beach has two primary internet service providers, Spectrum and Frontier, as well as a handful of smaller service providers. But Eriksen said this could bring other providers into the market who are interested in providing fiber service in Long Beach, which could mean more competition. The city has yet to work out how it will lease its extra capacity to service providers, but there’s a possibility it could result in savings for customers.

“We don’t know how much having more competition and options will lower the cost, but it’s a roughly 80% cost savings for an entity not having to dig into the streets themselves,” Eriksen told commissioners.

While the project was postponed, the city has used other public works projects to install fiber through its “Dig Once” policy, where major road repairs are paired with other infrastructure needs like utility improvements to avoid breaking up roads with construction more often than necessary.

Streets like Artesia Boulevard and Market Street, both of which had massive complete-street projects started recently, included some fiber hardware elements so that those areas can be connected in the future.

Other large street improvement projects set for Studebaker Road and Seventh Street are also scheduled to get fiber improvements, according to a map of the city’s existing and planned fiber network.

A screenshot of the city’s proposed “fiber backbone” expansion. The green areas show where the city hopes to add new fiberoptic capability to its network.

When the council voted in 2017 to approve the project, it selected the least expensive option. A project that would have placed fiber into commercial corridors was projected to cost nearly $33 million while a larger buildout that could have offered residential service was projected to cost more than $182 million.

Eriksen told the city’s Technology and Innovation Commission on Wednesday that grants might be available that would allow the city to go beyond what’s been approved by the council, but she cautioned that the citywide network option would likely cost closer to $1 billion when accounting for connecting individual homes and operating the network.

The city plans to lease out the excess capacity to internet service providers with hopes that the backbone will entice them to expand their private fiber networks to provide faster speeds to residents and businesses.

Jason Ruiz covers City Hall and politics for the Long Beach Post. Reach him at [email protected] or @JasonRuiz_LB on Twitter.