Kenosha starts construction of open-access broadband network

Construction of a citywide high-speed Internet network in Kenosha has begun to provide residents and businesses with an alternative to the existing service providers.

The privately funded $100 million project is expected to be completed in 2025, according to its developer, New Jersey-based SiFi Networks.

As the service rolls out gradually over the next three years, customers could get download and upload speeds of up to 10 gigabits per second, SiFi said, making it one of the fastest networks available anywhere.

It would be an open-access network where multiple internet service providers would use SiFi’s fiber optic cable system to provide services and compete for customers.

The City of Superior in northwestern Wisconsin is pursuing something similar. The main difference is that in Superior, the city owns the fiber and leases it to service providers.

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In Kenosha, SiFi would own the fiber, lease it to service providers, and cover all city expenses like building permits and inspection fees.

It’s a business model that appeals to cash-strapped communities that want an open-access network, said SiFi spokesman Bob Knight.

According to the Minneapolis-based Institute for Local Self Reliance, more than 40 U.S. cities, counties, and service districts have or plan to have some form of open-access Internet system.

Proponents say it has lowered internet prices and allowed customers to easily switch service providers and plans at any time. Businesses benefit from access to new customers without the burden of building and maintaining their own network to these homes and businesses.

Kenosha residents and businesses could see “great benefit” from the SiFi project, “which will ensure that affordable, high-speed internet service is available throughout the city,” Mayor John Antaramian said in a statement.

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“We will be working closely with SiFi Networks to ensure a smooth construction process so that together we can connect every address in the city over the next few years,” said Ed St. Peter, the city’s project manager.

SiFi hasn’t revealed which ISPs would be using its Kenosha network, but says the first company will be named soon.

Currently, Kenosha is largely covered by the Charter Spectrum service and has gigabit speeds available through charters.

Big service providers like Charter have said that open-access networks aren’t necessary and that if they’re funded with public money, they put taxpayers at risk.

SiFi, a privately held company based in Morristown, New Jersey, says it is not using any state or federal grants to build the Kenosha network, its first project in Wisconsin.

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The company says it is working with cities in California, Connecticut and other states to develop open-access networks and that its revenue would come from the ISPs who lease space on the systems.

SiFi says it was invited to Kenosha because current service providers have not kept up with the community’s need for affordable, high-speed Internet.

“No matter what these larger companies spend on direct mail…at the end of the day, you’re still paying too much for subpar service,” Knight said.

Nothing is yet available in terms of customer pricing and service plans for the Kenosha network, but residents and businesses can learn more by visiting the website.

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