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Cleveland moves forward with proposal to bring low-cost internet to every resident

A red ethernet cable is plugged in above several gray cables.
Inara Prusakova
As part of the proposal, DigitalC is also expected to provide digital literacy education to at least 50,000 Clevelanders.

Every household in Cleveland could soon have broadband internet access for $18 a month, a fraction of the cost of the median high-speed internet price of $75 a month. Cleveland City Council on Thursday voted to move forward with a $20 million proposal.

The plan was on hold for months after council expressed concerns that Mayor Justin Bibb’s pick for internet providers couldn’t deliver. But it’s back on after Councilmember Brian Kazy brokered a deal with the administration and Cleveland-based nonprofit DigitalC that stipulates no city money will be dispersed without proven results.

"Hopefully DigitalC is going to be the right choice, but only time will tell," Kazy said. "But the good thing about it is financially, our residents of Cleveland will not be on the hook for public dollars if they don’t come through with what they say they’re going to do."

The city will pay DigitalC over four years only if the group meets certain benchmarks, which include signing up a total of 23,500 new customers and providing digital literacy education to at least 50,000 Clevelanders.

“It was not an easy back and forth," said DigitalC's CEO Joshua Edmonds. He said the company is committed to a path forward that ensures it will reach the goals laid out by the city.

“DigitalC is so confident in their product they are willing to operate under this payment schedule," said Bibb's Senior Policy Advisor Austin Davis. "They only get paid if we get what we want. The city is not rolling any dice here.”

The proposal now moves to council's finance committee, where it again will be vetted before the full council votes.

If approved, DigitalC would expand its existing broadband that currently serves areas most affected by the digital divide such as Glenville, Hough and Clark-Fulton. The proposal would be among the largest city investments using federal pandemic relief stimulus dollars.

DigitalC promises a quick build time of 18 months, utilizing existing fiber and buildings that would require no digging. Beyond that, the company will build infrastructure in high-density areas to improve internet speed.

The $18 a month plan, which is locked in for five years then can only be raised based on inflation, includes 100 megabits per second, a speed DigitalC promises can accommodate up to six users streaming, gaming or surfing the web. But if users want to opt for higher speed, additional tiers will include $29.99 for 300 mbps or $49.99 for a gigabyte per second.

There will be no income requirement for who can use the service once it’s available.

According to the most recent data from the U.S. Census, 25% of Cleveland households do not subscribe to in-home internet.

Abbey Marshall covers Cleveland-area government and politics for Ideastream Public Media.