By Raja Bamrungpong, Interim Information Technology Director
Please give us a brief overview on the status of broadband connectivity in Oxnard.
The City of Oxnard, like many in the U.S., faces challenges while addressing broadband connectivity for residents and businesses. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 80.3% of Oxnard households have a broadband Internet subscription, which highlights the fact that there is still work to be done to address the digital divide.
This and other similar data empowered the City Council to recently adopt a Fiber Master Plan, which provides a blueprint for how the City can leverage its investment in fiber optic infrastructure for the benefit of government innovation, businesses, and possible future educational and residential use.
Oxnard’s existing 38-mile fiber network serves as a communications link for major City facilities and systems, including the traffic systems, fire stations, information technology data centers, and remote police locations. The majority of the existing fiber network system across the City was built in 2013, with an additional expansion added in 2016.
The goal of the master plan is to expand the fiber optic infrastructure throughout the City, and ultimately provide high-speed internet access to communities where it is currently lacking through an investment in public-private partnerships.
Oxnard is served primarily by Frontier as the local exchange carrier (LEC) who purchased the Verizon assets including FiOS plant. The City is also served by Charter dba Spectrum as the Cable MSO, and the major cellular providers (AT&T, T-Mobile, Verizon).
What concerns do residents have about broadband access?
In creating the Fiber Master Plan, the City surveyed businesses and community anchor institutions regarding the current state of broadband in the City. Receiving more than 500 responses, the City found:
Many surveyed businesses stated that high speed broadband was either absolutely essential or very important to their day-to-day operations.
A majority expected the need for high-speed internet access to increase somewhat or substantially over the next 3-5 years.
Numerous businesses emphasized that very fast and inexpensive broadband is a priority to stay and grow in Oxnard.
Many supported community-based broadband network solutions to address these issues.
This community outreach included feedback from residents, who expressed concern about digital inclusion or digital equity. Communities with lower-income households are less likely to be served by a viable landline option. In some instances, residents forego readily available broadband access due to economic hardships.
Has the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic impacted broadband connectivity or spurred action to increase and/or diversify connectivity in Oxnard?
California, like many states in the U.S., issued COVID-19 stay-at-home orders in March.
As the nation adapted to the new normal of telecommuting and video conferencing, internet service providers responded by removing data caps and increasing base-level speeds. During this time Charter offered free Spectrum Internet in-home service and Wi-Fi to new subscriber households with teachers or K-12 or college students for 60 days.
Prior to the pandemic, the City of Oxnard was working towards implementing a new cloud-based enterprise resource planning (ERP) system that will transform the way the City does business by moving most of its processes online. With the onset of COVID, the City has fast-tracked implementing new services that will better serve residents and the business community, such as allowing for scanned plan submissions.
The City is also exploring the possibility of partnering with other institutions within the community to address broadband challenges. As more schools move to online education due to COVID, needs such as connecting hot spots for students while adhering to social distancing protocols arise. Local government could serve as a resource for these institutions by offering City-owned resources, such as parks or other spaces, to assist with meeting the demands.
What are potential solutions to the broadband connectivity challenges faced in Oxnard? (From your perspective and the perspectives of residents)
Through the policy initiatives of the City’s Fiber Master Plan, Oxnard is considering joint trenching of pipes and cabling for gas, water, electricity and telecommunications with future developments. This would allow the City to add more infrastructure at a lower cost.
The City is also considering including a requirement to connect to the City’s fiber optic infrastructure as part of conditions of approval for new development agreements and development project permits. The goal of these policies is help to expand the City’s current telecommunications infrastructure and ultimately expand telecommunications services for residents by creating a more robust infrastructure for a growing city.
Oxnard is also exploring using municipal fiber networks to attract new competitively priced service providers through opening commercial access to public broadband assets. Through public-private partnerships (P3s), the City hopes to create effective broadband alternatives for area businesses and anchor institutions at lower costs with increased availability and higher bandwidth.
The City also participates in a broadband consortium with other local municipalities in Ventura County. The consortium is dedicated to advancing broadband availability, especially for underserved areas and residents. With this working group and under the leadership of the County, Oxnard is exploring the feasibility of creating fiber-based broadband infrastructure throughout the County in collaboration with neighboring entities in order to remain competitive in attracting new businesses and fueling economic development in the region.
Are there organizations, initiatives, and/or individuals that are working to increase broadband connectivity/access that should be mentioned?
Oxnard Mayor Tim Flynn was an early advocate of investing in fiber infrastructure. In 2016 he stated, “The City of Oxnard needs infrastructure to attract investment and support business growth. Access to robust, high-speed Internet and data networks is as vital as streets, water and sewer infrastructure. High-speed connectivity enhances a community’s economic development potential by attracting new, advanced businesses and providing existing businesses the tools they need to expand.”
This led to the approval of funding for a Fiber Master Plan, which was developed in consultation with Magellan Advisors and unanimously passed by the City Council in May 2020.
The Fiber Master Plan is now the blueprint for the City as it continues to grow. Its policies advocate for increased investment of broadband infrastructure during all construction projects within the City, and recommends having new developers contribute to the City’s existing fiber infrastructure. Additionally, it directs City staff to explore the feasibility of opening access to public broadband assets through P3s with Internet service providers.
The Broadband Consortium of the Pacific Coast (BCPC), Ventura County, Oxnard and its neighboring cities are collaborating to identify solutions in creating a County-wide fiber network and working together to improve the investment in telecommunications infrastructure in order to increase economic development in the region.
The process of creating Oxnard’s Fiber Master Plan was managed by IT Manager of Communications and Security Systems Kevin Pisacich, who worked in partnership with various City departments including Community Development, the City Attorney’s Office and Public Works. Magellan Advisors helped create the community survey and prepare the final document.