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Salinas Partners with Underline for Construction of Privately Owned Open-Access Fiber Network

The City of Salinas has formalized an agreement with community infrastructure company Underline as its preferred partner to deploy a privately financed and operated open-access community fiber network. Underline’s network, Underline: Salinas, will be the foundation for remote working and learning, continued business and job formation, opportunity, and upward mobility for Salinas residents. Underline: Salinas will be Underline’s third network following Colorado Springs and Fountain, Colorado.

The city’s move is a significant step toward closing the digital divide and providing options for connectivity: In Salinas, 17% of households have no internet at all, and 39% of households have incomes below 180% of the Federal Poverty Line, making most internet plans unaffordable. These households are expected to qualify for Underline’s Opportunity Program through which they will receive the same ultra-fast internet connection, 500/500 Mbps, for a reduced price. 

“The City of Salinas is committed to the belief that every person and family should have access to fast, affordable broadband,” said Salinas Mayor Kimbley Craig. “Salinas has demonstrated there is indeed a digital divide, and that currently, not all residents have that access. We are thrilled that Underline has decided to partner with us in this effort to ensure that broadband services are available and affordable to everybody regardless of their economic status, and look forward to serving as an example of how communities like ours can achieve universal access.”

Underline: Salinas will serve approximately 42,000 homes and 5,000 businesses. Construction is set to begin in early 2022 and last 15 months, with the first residents and businesses connected within three months.

In Underline’s open-access model, Underline owns and operates the physical infrastructure, and multiple service providers (ISPs and others) operate on the shared, multi-purpose platform, competing for customers across the network. Such a model empowers service providers to enter the market without the expense of building their own infrastructure, promotes consumer choice, encourages competition to drive down prices, and limits wasteful infrastructure overbuild, according to an Underline spokesperson. 

By enabling competition among Internet Service Providers (ISP), broadband service should become more accessible and more affordable, according to a report by the city’s Economic Development Department. 

The City Council had identified the development of a broadband network to serve the needs of its residents and businesses as one of its priorities. From economic stability to education, to social supports, to civic agency, broadband and digital services are intrinsically tied to collective health and equity outcomes, according to a February 2020 report by the Metropolitan Policy Program at Brookings Institution.