May 31, 2023 - News

DigitalC to bring high-speed internet citywide for $18/month

DigitalC CEO Joshua Edmonds (R) and director of technology Rolando Alvarez in a room with a monitor showing internet download speeds.

DigitalC CEO Joshua Edmonds (R) and director of technology Rolando Alvarez (L) show off the network's high speeds. Photo: Sam Allard/Axios

Low-cost, high-speed internet is coming to Cleveland.

Driving the news: Mayor Justin Bibb has proposed spending $20 million in federal pandemic relief funds to vastly expand nonprofit DigitalC to provide affordable broadband access citywide within 18 months.

Why it matters: More than one-third (35%) of Cleveland households don't have at-home internet access.

  • DigitalC would provide high-speed internet for only $18 per month, regardless of income level.

Details: That rate would give customers upload and download speeds of 100 megabits per second, which DigitalC chief operation officer Jose Valdez told Axios is sufficient to accommodate up to six devices at once, including simultaneous streaming.

  • That's significantly faster than the federally recognized definition of high speed, which is a download speed of 25 megabits per second.
  • If approved by City Council, the expansion would occur in three phases, each taking six months, with the first phase targeting east side wards (5, 6, 7 and 9).

What they're saying: "What we're doing is innovative, and I don't say that to be fluffy," DigitalC CEO Joshua Edmonds said at a demonstration of the technology last week.

  • "Historically, people in Cleveland are not experiencing speeds like this, and they're definitely not experiencing it for $18 a month, unless it's a promotional rate."

By the numbers: DigitalC has offered its baseline $18 rate since 2019.

  • As a condition of the federal funding, it would be locked in at that rate for the next five years.
  • Faster speeds will be available, but even DigitalC's top-tier option — speeds of one gigabyte per second — will be $49.99 per month, substantially cheaper than the nationwide median monthly cost of $75 for high-speed internet.

The intrigue: DigitalC operates in some Cleveland neighborhoods but has almost no presence downtown or on the southeast side. Its goal is to sign up an additional 23,500 households as it expands, Edmonds said.

Yes, but: The nonprofit has fallen far short of projections before.

  • In 2015, DigitalC projected that it would sign on 40,000 subscribers by 2024.
  • It currently has only about 2,000 customers, plus an additional 4,000 through a partnership with the Cuyahoga Metropolitan Housing Authority.
  • DigitalC told last year that "a CEO transition, a miscalculation of government bureaucracy, COVID-19, supply chain issues and increased competition" all contributed to its sluggish growth.

The other side: A number of other companies submitted bids for the city's internet plan, including major telecommunications firms Spectrum, AT&T and T-Mobile.

  • Signal Cleveland reported that Spectrum's bid would have offered internet for $23 per month, and that the city opted for DigitalC due to its low price for consumers.

What's next: Cleveland City Council president Blaine Griffin told Axios that he plans to add the legislation to next Monday's agenda, the last council meeting before the summer recess.


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