– Crain’s Cleveland Business, Jan. 24, 2016
Most days, a funny thing happens in Hudson just after 3 p.m.
Internet connections slow down as school kids get out of class and onto their phones, tablets and computers, sending photos, streaming media or downloading big files like movies.
It might not get noticed by someone surfing the web or sending an email, but for businesses working with data-heavy applications or downloading big graphic files, it’s a problem. It’s become such a problem, city officials said, that businesses were complaining.
That’s why Hudson is going into the Internet service business — and more quickly than even the city first envisioned.
Last fall, Hudson launched its Velocity Broadband service, offering businesses Internet bandwidth of up to a gigabyte with a service the city promises will prove both faster and more reliable than existing offerings from cable, phone and wireless companies.
The service so far is only available in a few business parks and small sections of the city – most notably a business complex on Executive Parkway and most recently the Milford Road/Acme Plaza. Officials said it will spread to downtown and along the Ohio Route 91 corridor in 2016 before going citywide by the middle of 2017.
What was expected to take up to five years to install will instead be ready in a little more than two years, largely because of the demand city officials said they’re seeing.
It was either build a better Internet or lose businesses to places that had it, said city manager Jane Howington.
“As technology is increasing, more and more people are getting online all the time,” she said. “When school lets out, half of these businesses are either kicked off or they see the little wheel spinning around and around on their computers … We have a lot of small local businesses in Hudson, and we found that a lot of our businesses were having to displace their workers, to their homes, to get Internet.”
The city’s project is quite an undertaking. It requires running new fiber optic lines virtually everywhere the service will be provided, said assistant city manager Frank Comeriato.
Fortunately for the city, its public services employees can handle much of the work, and there are existing poles above ground and underground routes so the work will cost less than it would in an undeveloped area. The city has so far budgeted about $800,000 for its initial capital costs and about $1.2 million to continue installing and maintaining the system, Comeriato said.
So far, both the city and its initial customers appear happy with the new system. Of the roughly 600 businesses in the current service area, about 50 already have signed up for Velocity. They can buy as much or as little bandwidth as they need, up to a full gigabyte, Comeriato said. Some have already increased their bandwidth, and last fall the city itself increased the amount of bandwidth it purchases for resale. That’s as planned, Comeriato said, noting that both the city and its customers likely will buy more and more bandwidth as technology needs increase.
So, how fast is the city’s service? If a business pays for the full gigabyte, it’s faster than most people have ever seen.
“At a gig you can download one full-length, (high-definition) movie in about three to five seconds,” Comeriato said. “The average (home) Internet connection is about 30 megabytes – this is a thousand times faster.”
Geoffrey Pope uses the new service as director of compliance and technology for Millennium Capital and Recovery Corp., a repossession-service company in Hudson that deals with a lot of financial and other data. The company began using Velocity in November and pays for 100 megabytes of bandwidth, Pope said. So far, it’s worked as advertised.
“Thus far, it’s been excellent,” Pope said. “We’ve experienced no downtime with the process, so we’ve been very happy with that, and the speed is wonderful. Prior to moving over, we had some issues with network speeds that we had to correct … The issues that I had before, with people coming to me and saying ‘What’s going on? Why is this so slow?’ — I don’t have that anymore.”
For Howington and the city, though, the issue is far more important than one business. Offering faster Internet service is a linchpin of the city’s economic development plan. The Velocity service is already speeding up the city’s plan to buy land and buildings to double the size of its downtown business district with more office and commercial space, as well as other development plans, Howington said.
Hudson might be ahead of many other cities in Northeast Ohio, but it’s not alone in looking at how it can improve its economy with Internet infrastructure. Fairlawn, for example, has proposed its own broadband network, and Fairlawn Mayor Bill Roth reportedly promised in his recent state of the city address that Fairlawn “will be Ohio’s first Gigabit city.” Hudson already claimed that mantle last fall, but time will tell which city can offer the service to all of its residents first.
Expect more communities to follow suit. Cities across the country are looking at their available Internet service, and many are realizing that it’s a key to current and future economic development.
“It’s interesting that all of these cities across the country are taking this on, because it’s a pretty expensive and arduous process to lay the entire city with fiber,” said Jan Gusich, CEO of the Hudson-based public relations firm Akhia. “It’s not just Hudson. It’s a pretty big deal across the country. Even the president is encouraging cities to do this.”
Gusich, who represents the city, said her firm is already a Velocity customer.
Not that the new fiber optic network is going to speed up everything in Hudson, of course. The city, known for its tranquil setting, slow pace and even slower traffic through its downtown, won’t lose its character, officials promised.
“When you get to Hudson, you can’t go anywhere fast,” joked Comeriato. “But while you’re sitting in traffic, you can really go fast on the Internet.”