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Cleveland residents will soon have access to $18 a month broadband internet

DigitalC CEO Joshua Edmonds (left) and Chief Operative Office Jose Valdez (right) stand on either side of a large monitor showing three different highlighted maps of Cleveland.
Abbey Marshall
Ideastream Public Media
DigitalC CEO Joshua Edmonds (left) and Chief Operative Office Jose Valdez (right) present before Cleveland City Council.

Every Cleveland household will soon have access to broadband internet for $18 a month — a fraction of the median cost of high-speed internet prices normally $75 a month.

On Monday, Cleveland City Council approved $20 million for the plan. It comes after a months-long back-and-forth between City Council and DigitalC, the Cleveland-based nonprofit telecommunication company selected by Mayor Justin Bibb.

That delay was caused by worry amongst some on city council about the scope of the project and DigitalC's "overly ambitious" track record. Ward 16's Brian Kazy, the utilities committee chair, spent the summer working with the administration and DigitalC to broker a deal to make council more amendable to the plan — which stipulates that no public money may be spent until after DigitalC reaches specific metrics.

“The new term sheet does a very good job of protecting public dollars," Kazy said at a Monday afternoon committee meeting. "We weren’t overly receptive of the reputation of Digital C, but I believe this piece of legislation will help them with their rebranding and reputation to be able to perform in the city of Cleveland.”

DigitalC’s CEO Joshua Edmonds said he is confident in the company's ability to fulfill the contract and build trust with the community.

"We’re not celebrating anything just yet," Edmonds said. "Even with ... passage of this today, we know we have a long road ahead of us."

How will it work

DigitalC will front the money to begin their build, which will use existing fiber infrastructure to create a citywide network without digging. Each year, the company must demonstrate that they've achieved certain goals to be reimbursed, which ultimately include signing up 23,500 new customers and providing digital literacy programming to 50,000 Clevelanders over four years.

"We look forward to earning this opportunity," said Joshua Edmonds, DigitalC's CEO. "When we go into the neighborhoods, we're going to earn the respect, and we're going to earn the business of the residents who desperately need an affordable correction in Cleveland and the telecommunications industry."

How did we get here?

DigitalC was selected from a pool of eleven vendors that brought forth proposals, including big names like Spectrum, AT&T and T-Mobile.

"This was the most cost-effective, high-quality service plan we looked at," said Austin Davis, the senior policy advisor to Bibb.

Council member Mike Polensek warned Davis that City Council would keep a close watch over the progress.

"The administration’s credibility is on the line as well," he said in a Monday committee meeting. "You have as much skin in the game as they do."

DigitalC already operates in several low-income neighborhoods in Cleveland, including Glenville, Hough and Clark-Fulton. The new build will include all city neighborhoods, and every resident will be eligible regardless of income.

What service will be available?

The $18 a month plan 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. Those prices are locked in for five years, with adjustments beyond that made only with inflation.

Residents will still be able to select a different internet provider if they want.

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

"Our mission is clear: deploy a state-of-the-art network to erase the digital divide for good," Edmonds said. "Bridging the digital divide empowers citizens, bolsters economic growth and increases quality of life."

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