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Hillsboro city officials have given the green light to building a citywide internet utility.

               The city of Hillsboro plans to provide city-owned high speed Internet to residents as early as next year.

On Tuesday, May 15, city councilors committed to providing affordable Internet access to homes and businesses across the city as a city utility, the same way the city currently treats water and garbage service.

City planners estimated that residents would pay a flat $50 per month fee for Internet access through the city, with at least 1 gigabit per second download speeds.

Low-income households could pay as little as $10 per month, planners said.

City officials have said that having access to high-speed Internet is an essential component to living in the 21st Century.

"Like water, electricity and other public utilities, Hillsboro residents and businesses will increasingly expect high-speed access to be reliable and affordable throughout our city," planners wrote in a recent report.

According to city spokesman Patrick Preston, neighborhoods will be brought onto the city's fledgling fiber optic network in phases. The city will start with two neighborhoods in 2019.

The first of these neighborhoods will be near Shute Park in southwest Hillsboro. City officials have said that low-incomes areas of Hillsboro should receive the service first, as residents in these areas have the greatest need for affordable Internet service.

The second neighborhood to receive the access isn't built, yet. The new South Hillsboro development currently under construction along Tualatin Valley Highway on the outskirts of the city is seen as the easiest place to bring fiber optic access to, Preston said. Crews can install the cables as the neighborhood is built.

"Building out the network at such an early stage in the neighborhood's development presents the greatest potential cost efficiency of any area," the city said in a statement.

Preston said it could take as long as a decade to bring the network to every home and business in Hillsboro.

The city has said for years that high-speed Internet access is a priority. The city was one of several Portland area cities in talks with Google Fiber to bring high-speed Internet to the city, but those talks fell through in 2016 when Google opted not to expand to Oregon. The city had considered building its own fiber optic network several years ago, but the program proved too costly when it was first pitched in 2015.

The city has taken small steps toward fiber Internet over the past several months. Earlier this year the city formed a communications utility to serve as a framework for the program, and updated city codes to better coordinate with public utilities and developers to install pipe for fiber-optic cables whenever new or existing roads are dug up.

"Being thoughtful and strategic is not only good governance, it's the Hillsboro way," City Councilor Anthony Martin said. "Our neighbors will look forward to the day when our community's fiber network expands and the city can provide the exceptional customer service that Hillsboro residents expect."

The decision has other benefits as well. City planners hope the network will not only please residents, but will help attract and retain high-tech businesses. Hillsboro is home to the state's largest employer, Intel, and several other high-tech companies which make up the heart of the so-called Silicon Forest.

"We want to ensure affordable, equitable high-speed access to keep Hillsboro competitive with cities around the world," Hillsboro Mayor Steve Callaway said in a written statement.

And as talk in Washington, D.C. continues to swirl around issues of Net Neutrality, city officials said a municipal Internet service will ensure that residents aren't left behind by rising costs or other commercial interests.

"At a time when concerns about net neutrality raise questions about unrestricted access to Internet content, our community also has an uneasy reliance on the commercial market to determine access and affordability," the city said. "Without high-speed access, community members are less informed and less equipped to thrive. Lower-income residents struggle to achieve Internet and computer literacy. A level playing field requires equitable access to information so people can learn, obtain employment, care for their wellness, and participate in their community."

Hillsboro isn't the first city to offer its residents high-speed Internet access. According to Hillsboro, more than 80 cities across the country have built high-speed fiber networks.

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