Civic News
Digital access / Municipal government

City of Pittsburgh will soon begin installation of its first unified fiber connectivity network

Crown Castle was picked for the $10 million contract in August 2021. The company's managing director for enterprise fiber said the upgrades are "really in line with the City's goal to modernize infrastructure."

Pittsburgh's City-County Building. (Photo via Wikimedia Commons)

The City of Pittsburgh has finalized its $10 million deal with Crown Castle to create the city’s first unified fiber connectivity network.

The Texas-based communications infrastructure supplier will bring together Pittsburgh’s 131 city facilities, including emergency response centers and recreation centers, to create a single network where previously more than half operated on different institutional networks. The goal is to improve public safety access and allow for a public Wi-Fi system in the future.

Terry Cummings, managing director for enterprise fiber for Crown Castle, told Technical.ly that although a full installation will take at least year, with the City’s go-ahead, some parts of the network will be ready to use in 120 days.

“Once these [sites] are deployed they’re really in line with the City’s goal to modernize infrastructure, and add technology capacity,” Cummings said. “I think the residents and constituents are going to see those sorts of things improved.”

The fiber connectivity network comes as a part of the NetPGH initiative which was unveiled in 2020 after the Federal Communications Commission issued an order requiring that all cities pay for institutional networks provided by cable franchise operators. Under then-mayor Bill Peduto, the City determined that its previous method of providing connectivity through different providers would become too expensive, and the Department of Innovation & Performance launched a bidding process for a unified network. Crown Castle was picked for the $10 million contract in August 2021.

Despite the rollout happening under a different administration, Cummings said Castle Crown and Mayor Ed Gainey’s team had a similar vision for the network.

“We haven’t really missed a beat in our conversations with the change in administration,” Cummings said. “We work with members of the cabinet to ensure the project’s outcomes stay aligned with Mayor Gainey’s priorities.”

Through the fiber connectivity network, users will gain more speed and be able to use more technologies on the network. The network also provides a scalable infrastructure, meaning it won’t need to be constantly replaced to make room for technology upgrades.

Additionally, the City will be able to manage the network through its own electric mesh architecture, and therefore won’t be at the mercy of traditional internet providers controlling it. In the long term, Cummings said, the City will be able to better budget for the future knowing it’s committed to this method of connectivity for the next decade.

“Our vision here and in other markets,” the Crown Castle director said, “as we deploy infrastructure in the metros, and across all neighborhoods in the metro, we see more opportunities for residents to benefit from those because fiber is closer to where they are today. And there’s an ecosystem of service providers that utilize networks like this one being deployed, to service those constituents with technologies we know about today.”

In addition to the network, the NetPGH plan enabled the expansion of the Rec2Tech initiative, a program geared toward putting STEM programming in recreation centers throughout Pittsburgh, as well as the Smart Corridors initiative which seeks to improve traffic efficiency and prioritize mobility of transit vehicles.

Atiya Irvin-Mitchell is a 2022-2024 corps member for Report for America, an initiative of The Groundtruth Project that pairs young journalists with local newsrooms. This position is supported by the Heinz Endowments.
Companies: City of Pittsburgh
Series: Digital Infrastructure Month 2022

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