In 2007, the city of Westerville began planning for expansion of its fiber optic network. Originally the primary purpose was to meet the city’s own internal needs for disaster recovery, enhanced public safety operations, shared regional services and the foundational infrastructure for Advanced Metering and Smart Grid systems. While assessing its own needs, the City reached out to its businesses and community partners. The investigation identified a lack of affordable choices for broadband and data center services within Westerville, thus launching a deeper look into fiber as a 4th utility, as well as critical to the City’s economic and social development strategies.
Seen as an essential 4th utility, WēConnect comprises 40 miles of 144-count underground fiber backbone connected to a community data center providing a full complement of secure colocation-to-cloud solutions.
The WēConnect fiber network offers ultra-high-speed (100 Gbps), ultra-low-latency Internet and private connectivity to municipal service providers, businesses, K-12 schools, university, research and other academic institutes throughout the City and state.
In 2012, Westerville dedicated the WēConnect Community Data Center – the first and to date only – municipally owned data center and high-speed fiber network in the United States established as a public utility and operated through a public-private partnership. The WēConnect data center represents a $6 million+ investment designed not only to bring efficiencies and economies to the delivery of public services, but also to provide a key competitive edge in the city’s economic development strategies.
The WēConnect data center is a carrier-neutral environment that allows businesses to meet all their connectivity needs (data, storage, backup) while purchasing large amounts of bandwidth from whichever carrier they choose at negotiated lower rates. The WēConnect data center has passed the Service Organization Control (SOC2) audit, has been certified HIPPA compliant and has met the security standards of the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS).
This comprehensive IT infrastructure helps the City and WēConnect customers reduce operating and capital costs and delivers advanced technologies and ultra-high-speed connectivity via a publicly owned network to private and institutional users throughout the community.
To date, more than 40 miles of the WēConnect fiber network are lit. By year’s end, 57 buildings (in addition to government and institutional buildings) will be connected. These sites represent more than 200 individual businesses.
In addition to government and institutional users, the WēConnect data center serves 56 customers and has, in three out of six years, covered all related expenses and shown a small profit. Services provided through WēConnect have saved the City and other customers more than $2 million since 2014 with one business customer crediting WēConnect with helping them to avoid a $1 million capital expense in building their own data center.
More importantly, through this public-private partnership, the WēConnect data center is able to combine industry expertise with civic responsibility to deliver services in a manner that positively impacts outcomes for the entire Westerville community.
WēConnect has become a key feature in the city’s economic development game plan. Businesses have access to high-speed, low-latency Internet connectivity and advanced data center services all at competitive costs. The mere availability of WēConnect serves as an attractor to businesses, but when bundled as part of an incentive package, it helps the City standout with site selectors. Anecdotally, economic development peers from other municipalities, even those on the West Coast, have shared with Westerville staff what a tremendous advantage this asset is.
It is also worth noting that City Council’s decision to go forward with the $6 million investment in WēConnect came at the height (or depth) of the recession. More than 85% of the funds spent to build out the network and data center were competitively procured from businesses within a two-mile radius of City Hall. Local companies benefited directly from this investment, jobs were saved and, in the case of one local engineering firm, they were able to hire back two personnel who are still on the job today.