hope village sign
A sign welcoming Detroiters to the Hope Village neighborhood on the city’s west side was photographed on April 20, 2022 in Detroit, Mich. (BridgeDetroit Photo by Malachi Barrett)

The city’s $10 million plan to create its own high-speed internet network in an underserved westside neighborhood has hit a snag after no companies bid on a contract to install fiber optic cables there. 

Joshua Edmonds, director of digital inclusion for Detroit, told Hope Village residents at a Wednesday community meeting that vendors had expressed interest in pre-bid meetings but ultimately didn’t respond to the request for proposals because the city didn’t identify an area where contractors could store their construction materials. Edmonds apologized to a room of a few dozen residents, saying there won’t be shovels in the ground in June as promised but the city will work to get the public internet project back on track. 

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“I believe in us being transparent,” Edmonds said. “We’re not happy that we didn’t get our construction bid. It will be reissued as early as Friday … If no one responds, we’ll make it even sweeter every single time until someone does respond. We have a goal and we’re still sticking to it: We say construction is going to begin in the summer.”

Detroit is dedicating $10 million in federal American Rescue Plan Act funds to the pilot program in Hope Village, which straddles the western border with Highland Park between the Lodge and Davison freeways. The city aims to connect 2,000 homes to city-owned fiber optic infrastructure that internet service providers will use to deliver affordable high-speed home broadband. Edmonds said the city wants to give Detroiters more options for reliable service. 

The project fits into Detroit’s larger goal of increasing digital equity in the city. The previous City Council approved a plan to use $45 million in ARPA funds for internet access and technology initiatives. If the Hope Village project is successful, Edmonds said fiber optic networks will be built across the city, with the eventual goal of having everyone in Detroit able to access the service as a public utility. 

Data from the University of Michigan shows between 42% and 59% of homes in Hope Village have no broadband internet connection. Residents who are AT&T customers experienced a 45-day service blackout last summer, prompting the city to focus the pilot project there.

More than a quarter of Detroit’s households and 70% of school-age children across the city don’t have home broadband, ranking Detroit among the five least-connected cities in the country. According to the city, the average resident pays $68 per month for home internet, adding up to $816 per year.

Detroiters across the city have told BridgeDetroit during a series of town hall meetings held in partnership with Detroit is Different that they face challenges with internet access. Most of the city is served by either AT&T or XFinity, a Comcast subsidiary. 

Victoria Shaw, a District 7 resident who works with the Grand River Community Block Club, said with fewer options available, there’s no competition among companies to offer the best rates to customers.

“With COVID-19, internet service became that much more critical to have,” Shaw said. “An ongoing issue is that you get into a plan and rates just keep going up every year or every six months when you renew. And then when I try to shop around and find somebody else and I check other service providers, I’m getting messages like ‘we’re not in your area we’ll let you know when we’re in your area.’”

Edmonds said Detroiters are “handcuffed” by their internet options. 

“I don’t want it to seem that I’m being mean to the internet providers but it’s like look, what choices do you have?” Edmonds said. 

Edmonds said there’s strong interest in a city-owned internet network, as evidenced by a survey commissioned by Connect 313, a community partnership funded by Rocket Community Fund, the Knight Foundation, Connect for Humanities, and the City of Detroit. GQR, a firm based in Washington, D.C., interviewed 600 Detroiters for the survey between April 28 and May 7.

The survey found 20% of Detroit adults do not have a home internet connection. People who are Black, low-income, older than 50 and without a college degree are more likely to live without home broadband internet. 

Half of the respondents said the monthly cost of a home internet subscription is too expensive, while 68% said they would get connected if an affordable option were available. 

Detroiters who are unsatisfied with their internet provider are more likely to view broadband internet as a public utility instead of a private service, according to the study. It also found relatively few Detroiters are aware of the city’s proposal to build an open access high-speed internet network. Respondents were largely supportive of the idea once it was described to them, with 77% saying the city should take some responsibility for ensuring people in underserviced areas have access to the internet at home. 

In Hope Village, an 18-month construction phase would follow the finalization of a contract. Construction will occur in the street and the right-of-way in front of homes that decide to get connected. 

The city won’t provide internet service, just the infrastructure needed to deliver service to households. Edmonds said the city is working to find service providers willing to use the fiber optic network. 

One of the major benefits of the city’s approach, he said, is the ability to allow multiple service providers to access the infrastructure. Right now, private companies operate their own fiber optic networks and decide when to expand into neighborhoods. Edmonds said a third-party will be hired to manage the network and perform maintenance work. 

Details on speeds and pricing are not yet available, though Edmonds said the goal is to provide upload and download speeds of 1 GB per second.

Hope Village residents can sign up to get connected for free by filling out a form on the city’s website. Detroiters won’t be connected unless they opt in. Edmonds said the form was put online three weeks ago, and he did not provide details on how many residents have signed up.

Edmonds said it’s vital that the city continue to engage residents in the neighborhood and get them signed up early, because those who don’t opt in now will have to pay an undetermined service fee to get connected after the infrastructure is installed.

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1 Comment

  1. “ultimately didn’t respond to the request for proposals because the city didn’t identify an area where contractors could store their construction materials”

    Then the city’s response is to make the deal “sweeter”? Shouldn’t they just identify an area for storage for the materials? How long has the city been in business and is still making these sorts of mistakes? Just seems super weird to me.

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