Lumen anchors utility lease model for Springfield, MO's fiber rollout

Municipal-owned City Utilities of Springfield is more than halfway done with construction of a more than 1,000-mile fiber network that will cover the entire city, with work expected to wrap later this year around eight to nine months ahead of schedule. Lumen Technologies, which is pursuing a rapid expansion of its residential fiber footprint, is set to serve as anchor tenant on the network and will deliver symmetric gigabit internet to Springfield’s 180,000 residents and businesses.

Jeff Reiman, president of the Broadband Group (TBG), told Fierce Springfield’s fiber buildout is structured by a utility lease model, a framework that serves the city utility’s interests and respects the metrics of the industry. TBG, which provides city and community-wide broadband planning consultation, also oversaw a fiber deployment in Huntsville, Alabama, where Google Fiber was the city utility's first tenant.

Springfield’s utility lease model is similar to what TBG did in Huntsville, Reiman said. Springfield’s City Utilities invested $120 million over a four-year period for the project.

“This is a network for the utility and a byproduct of that is it advances the connectivity of the residents and businesses of the footprint [the utility] serves,” he said. The service model allows the utility to make a large investment in upgrading its fiber optic infrastructure without raising rates for customers.

Reiman explained this structure attracts qualified anchor tenants like Lumen and Google Fiber – companies with the financial means to pay the long-term lease the utility expects.

“Having a provider that has the experience and the ability to sign a lease, and not default on it, is very important,” he said.

Lumen first signed the lease with Springfield’s City Utilities in 2019, back when the company was known as CenturyLink, and has been fairly productive since then. Lumen aims to expand its Quantum Fiber service to over 12 million locations within the next few years. Aside from fiber deployment, Lumen is in the process of a complete network overhaul for its Ethernet and wavelength products.

The Springfield buildout, Reiman continued, is further enhanced by Render Networks’ work management software. Render Networks is an Australia-based construction technology provider that has bolstered broadband connectivity across markets in Australia, the U.S. and the U.K.

Simply put, Render’s software enables construction crews to digitally catalog their progress, increasing operational efficiency at a reduced cost.

“Render allows us to predict, track and validate our network build,” Reiman said. “The visibility it provides, from financial forecasting to financial controls, is of tremendous value.”

Another key takeaway of the Springfield project, he continued, is that, like in Huntsville’s case, a qualified broadband ISP entered a new market that was previously served only by incumbent providers. Lumen and Google Fiber entering those markets encourages incumbents to make system upgrades and other competitive investments to benefit the cities they serve. That competition benefits the customers in the target markets.

A 2021 analysis by showed Huntsville ranked first in the U.S. in most improved internet speeds between February 2020 and February 2021. During that time, median download speeds went from 27 Mbps to 82 Mbps.

“I anticipate Springfield will recognize that same type of benefit with having that same quality of provider,” Reiman said.

He added while TBG’s utility lease model bolsters competition, having too many providers in the same market isn’t ideal for the utility.

“The utility isn’t there to make unlimited investments to meet the expectations of any service provider who may want to enter that market,” said Reiman. “This network is being built for the utility, with the appropriate amount of excess capacity for an anchor tenant to come in and provide services to the residents and businesses.”

Aside from its work in Huntsville and Springfield, TBG is overseeing a fiber network expansion in Colorado Springs, Colorado, where Ting Internet has signed on as the anchor tenant. Construction is set to commence sometime this year and the network is expected to reach over 200,000 addresses.