Lexington unveils $70 million plan to become nation’s largest gigabit city

Mayor Jim Gray announced an agreement with MetroNet to build a fiber-optic network in Lexington during a press conference Nov. 14, 2017. Also pictured are MetroNet President John Cinelli and founder Al Cinelli. (Amy Wallot, LFUCG)
Mayor Jim Gray announced an agreement with MetroNet to build a fiber-optic network in Lexington during a press conference Nov. 14, 2017. Also pictured are MetroNet President John Cinelli and founder Al Cinelli. (Amy Wallot, LFUCG)

LEXINGTON, Ky. (November 14, 2017) – Lexington’s entire urban services area will have gigabit internet service within three to four years, making it the nation’s largest gigabit city, Mayor Jim Gray and MetroNet, an Evansville, Ind.-based provider said today. The city, which has been exploring how to achieve ultrafast internet service since 2014, held a news conference to announce MetroNet’s plans to invest $70 million to build a fiber-optic network in Lexington.

Gray emphasized that MetroNet will give residents a new choice in television providers, and transform Lexington into a gigabit city that will attract high-tech businesses and jobs.

John Cinelli, President, MetroNet
John Cinelli, President, MetroNet

MetroNet is experienced at designing and building networks, said its President John Cinelli. It has built 90,000 “passes” by homes and businesses in the past year and sees Lexington’s 100,000 passes as a task that it can perform on time and within its budget.

Kentucky Wired, a $200 million project to build a gigabit network with nodes in all 120 Kentucky counties is over budget and now anticipates being years late. MetroNet’s experience and the imperative created by putting its own money into the project will keep the Lexington project on track, Cinelli said.

MetroNet is a private company, has good relationships with its bankers and an equity partner to provide the financing for the Lexington project, he said.

Local construction will begin Jan. 1, Cinelli said. The company plans that by the summer of 2018 the first Lexington residents and businesses will be able to start receiving internet access, television packages and phone service over fiber-optic cables, which carry data at gigabit speeds, or 1,000 megabits per second.

Lexington and MetroNet officials have been communicating for two years they said. The finished project will have “the best technology in the world,” they said, capable of meeting needs in the future that are not even envisioned at present.

“The people of Lexington have been crying out for a new competitor to bring improved television, faster internet speeds and caring customer service,” Gray said. “MetroNet not only solves those problems, but it turns Lexington into the nation’s largest gigabit city, with some of the fastest internet speeds in the world. That’s the fuel needed by a university city with expanding technology jobs and advanced industries across the city.”

Today, the Urban County Council is expected to vote to put a cable franchise, requested by MetroNet, on the docket for Thursday’s Council meeting. A franchise agreement with the Lexington-Fayette Urban County Government is required before a telecommunications company or utility can begin work in the city’s right-of-way, where telephone poles and underground utilities are located.

“What attracted us to Lexington is Mayor Gray’s determination to transform Lexington into a gigabit city, and to provide citizens with a television alternative. We know we’re going to love being in Lexington – it’s a dense, vibrant city that’s growing at a rapid pace and clearly will thrive with state-of-the-art telecommunications infrastructure. We’re very happy to soon be a part of the fabric of this great city,” MetroNet said in a news release.

MetroNet has built and operated fiber-optic networks in more than 35 towns and cities in Indiana and Illinois including Evansville, its home base.

Internet data is currently delivered by companies over copper telephone wires, coaxial cable, and fiber-optic cable, which is made of glass. Over copper and coaxial cable used by telephone companies and cable-television companies, data is sent using electronic pulses, which limits the speed of transmission. Over a fiber-optic network with gigabit speeds, a 90-minute high definition movie will download in 30 seconds, rather than 30 minutes.

Gigabit cities are those with fiber-optic networks that cover the city, rather than just certain neighborhoods. Currently, Chattanooga, Tenn., is the nation’s only gigabit city, and Huntsville is on track to be the second. MetroNet plans to build throughout Lexington’s urban services boundary, and may move beyond that boundary. “We will go where the customers are,” said Cinelli.

“I have said that we need competition among television and internet providers in Lexington,” Gray said. “With MetroNet’s entry into Lexington, we will be one of the few cities in the country with true competition in this sector. And we all know that competition lowers prices and improves service.”

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