On Thursday, the Worcester Regional Chamber of Commerce presented the findings of “The Worcester Fiber Connectivity Report,” which the Chamber commissioned to understand the current state and benefits of fiber-optic Internet connectivity.
Fiber-optic cable allows a much greater volume of data and at much higher speeds than typical household connections such as Digital Subscriber Line (DSL) and cable. Speed is judged in megabits per second (Mbps). While DSLs download at 10-15 Mbps and Charter Spectrum offers cable plans starting at 60 Mbps, fiber-optic connections can range anywhere from 100 Mbps to 1,000 Mbps (otherwise known as a gigabit).
Fastest speeds and greater bandwidth are required as companies reduce their reliance on systems and applications that run locally. One report finds that 93 percent of U.S. companies have at least some of their business systems running off-site, in the cloud.
For this reason, as the Chamber’s report makes clear, fiber-optic connectivity — both that being utilized, “lit fiber,” and that which is available, “dark fiber” — is key to economic development.
“Because Worcester has the ability to offer dark fiber as well as options for lit fiber, it becomes an attractive city for industries in need of high bandwidth,” the report states.
Chattanooga, Tennessee, began offering gigabit speeds six years ago. “An independent study confirmed that the ‘infrastructure has generated $865.3 million to $1.3 billion in economic and social benefits while creating between 2,800 and 5,200 new jobs,’ ” the report states.
Just last month, Chattanooga began offering speeds of 10 gigabits per second even to residents.
All this makes clear that we’ve entered an age when access to super high-speed Internet is a competitive advantage for cities such as Worcester. Equally clear is that we’re entering an era when it is easy to lose that advantage unless we continue to build capacity and infrastructure.
To that end, the report offers five recommendations regarding fiber-optic capabilities in Worcester:
- Educate stakeholders on the importance of fiber to economic development.
- Establish city leadership on fiber development and accessibility.
- Create a fiber accessibility task force.
- Partner with higher education to support enhanced networks for the future.
- Increase communication between vendors and the business community.
Implementing these recommendations should ensure Worcester properly markets and retains its competitive advantage among cities of similar size.
We applaud the Chamber for its efforts and its recommendations. While this is a good start, we believe the city should expand the focus of its connectivity efforts to include two areas: residential neighborhoods and cost.
The report states: “Using the National Broadband Map and a nationwide sample of real estate prices from 2011 to 2013, the study’s authors found that access to fiber may increase a home’s value by up to 3.1 percent.”
Additionally, while most homes currently have access to adequate bandwidth at speeds less than a gigabit, bandwidth-heavy applications (think: streaming video) and an increased number of connected devices portend a greater future need for fiber connections to homes.
Ensuring that residents can benefit from fiber-optic connectivity as much as businesses, and ensuring that this access is reasonably priced, will help Worcester stay ahead in an increasingly online world.