HUDSON: It’s rare for a city to launch its own business, but Hudson officials said they saw a need and filled it.
The city is investing more than $2.3 million in creating its own high-speed Internet company, Velocity Broadband, which offers download and upload speeds of up to 1 gigabit per second.
That’s about 100 times faster than any other broadband available in Northeast Ohio, city spokeswoman Jody Roberts said.
The city’s electric utility, Hudson Public Power, is currently focused on laying fiber optic lines in commercial centers.
Velocity became operational in September for city offices and private business in the Executive Parkway business park.
First & Main and downtown Hudson will have access by summer, and state Route 91 should be on board by the end of the year, Roberts said.
Meanwhile, officials have applied for a $50,000 Ohio Development Services Agency grant to study the feasibility of covering the entire city so residents can opt in as well.
Velocity is one of the first companies in the Midwest to offer 1 gigabit, Roberts said.
By comparison, most service providers offer less than 50 megabits downloading and less than 6 megabits uploading, although some individual communities across the country are being converted to higher speeds, according to one website that compares services. (One gigabit is 1,000 megabits.)
Companies that don’t need a gigabit can opt for Velocity’s minimal service — 25 megabits for both downloading and uploading — at a cost of about $120 a month, although the city is running discount promotions.
City Manager Jane Howington said there wasn’t too much risk in the endeavor. The city already had its own power company, and it could install the lines where customers were already interested, then grow as the cash flow began.
Only one city employee was added; other existing staff was reassigned or absorbed new duties.
Other operations — including sales and interior wire installation — were outsourced to local companies, “and that’s good for the local economy,” she noted.
The project came about after the city’s economic development department kept hearing businesses complain about low and inconsistent Internet service.
“Some were saying they had employees working out of their houses because of computer issues at work,” Howington said. The problems were confirmed by a survey of local businesses and residents.
To resolve the problem, City Council first considered running the high speed lines and asking a private broadband company to take them over, but couldn’t find a willing service provider.
“So that left us with deciding whether to leave things as they were knowing we might lose business, or do it ourselves,” Howington said.
One way Velocity achieves higher speeds is because the city is using fiber optic cables throughout the entire system. Some other companies use copper in the last leg of their connections, which slows the speed down, Roberts said.
More than 50 businesses have already signed up for the service, and the city hopes to add at least another 50 this year.
Jennifer Novotny, CEO of the Day Ketterer law firm, said her company made Velocity its primary Internet provider. It recently merged with another firm, moved its headquarters to a business park off Boston Mills Road, and maintains offices in other cities.
She said it made sense to get the higher speed and better reliability, especially when it comes to transferring litigation and other huge files between locations.
“I think it speaks volumes to Hudson’s commitment to its businesses” that it would take on the broadband industry to help local companies, Novotny said.
Howington said surveys suggest residents are also very interested in having access to Velocity — the city has many professionals who work from home — but the city will need to come up with a plan to reach them since most neighborhoods are spread out.
By comparison, business districts are compact and many customers can be reached in a short installation area.
One answer could be to reach more rural areas of Hudson with a wireless system, she said.
Velocity was announced last year with much fanfare. During the summer, the city teased the project with the words “Something BIG is coming” projected on its iconic clock tower.
Mayor William Currin then declared October “Gigabit City Month” and local merchants joined the celebration with special promotions while local restaurants tweaked their menus to offer things like Giga-bite sliders, Broadband BBQ and Giga milkshakes.
Paula Schleis can be reached at 330-996-3741 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter at http://twitter.com/paulaschleis.