From City Newspaper

Greenlight Networks and the city of Rochester have signed an agreement to allow the company to expand its fiber optic network throughout the city, officials announced Tuesday.

Greenlight already has a presence in Rochester, particularly in neighborhoods around Park Avenue and into Swillburg, the South Wedge, and Highland Park. The new agreement established a fee structure and applications for Greenlight to receive right of way in the city, enabling Greenlight to move forward in construction on projects more easily.

City residents will still have freedom to choose their internet provider.

Greenlight will also be covered under the “Dig Once” policy, which means Greenlight projects will work in tandem with roadwork, like the Mt. Hope Avenue improvement project, to avoid excess excavation.

“We’re doing the project on Mt. Hope Avenue now, and Greenlight is there laying their fiber,” said Norm Jones, commissioner of the Department of Environmental Services, said. “When that project is opened up, they’re there, and won’t have to do excavation into our right of way to lay fiber.”

Greenlight President and CEO Mark Murphy said the network plans to hit a minimum of 1,200 households this year, and, while slowed by the COVID-19 epidemic, could cover the entire city in about three years.

“We’ve talked at great lengths about how to go about bridging the digital divide in the city, and we’re excited to work with (the city’s) team on that,” Murphy said.

The “digital divide” refers to the lack of access to digital infrastructure, particularly in low-income households.

According to a report issued last week from the non-profit alliance Roc the Future, 20 percent of all Rochesterians have no internet access. That figure nearly doubled to 38 percent in households whose annual income was less than $20,000, dropped to 14 percent in households whose income was between $20,000 and $74,999, and fell to 8 percent for households with incomes over $75,000.

The divide also follows racial lines — black people are twice as likely as white people to lack internet access, according to the report.

“We’re going to be working with Greenlight to recognize the areas with the most need, and where we have the most digital divide,” Mayor Lovely Warren said.

The first neighborhoods slated to receive Greenlight  — Park Avenue and Cobbs Hill — are not necessarily low-income areas.

The plans have prompted some, including Monroe County Legislator Rachel Barnhart, to accuse Greenlight of “redlining,” a practice of excluding low income, particularly black, neighborhoods from access to services.

“I think it’s really amazing if Greenlight is investing in the city, giving households more broadband internet options, and at least trying to bring internet to low-income households,” Barnhart said. “My concern is people see these types of announcements and think they’re solving a problem. It’s not solving the digital divide.”

Murphy vehemently denied redlining, and explained that getting easements to lay down fiber optic cables through private properties is more difficult in some neighborhoods than others. Greenlight has no plans to seek eminent domain for projects, Murphy said, and intends to work with the city on community outreach to obtain easements.

“Redlining is an awfully serious thing to toss out, and it’s simply not something we do,” Murphy said. “For us, the challenges almost exclusively have to do with getting a particular easement in a particular block than anything else.”

The cheapest plan at Greenlight is currently one that offers 500 megabytes per second for $50 per month.

Warren said the city is seeking input from community partners on ways to bring down internet costs to low-income neighborhoods.

“Across the spectrum, we’re looking at not only how do we provide services to low-income residents, but also how do we make it affordable for them,” Warren said.