Town commissioners approved a total of $11,000 last week to jumpstart two major Internet connectivity projects in Wendell.
Commissioners unanimously approved $2,000 for IT administrator Tamah Hughes to test WiFi equipment so the town can provide WiFi service in the downtown area. Commissioners approved another $9,000 for an outside consulting group, CTC Technology and Energy, to begin looking at the practicality and cost of getting town facilities connected to fiber internet.
“Both (projects) are in the preliminary planning stages,” Hughes said. “We asked for a little money on each project to get the ball rolling.”
The downtown WiFi project will likely be the quicker of the two projects to complete.
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The first phase of the project, testing equipment, should be done in six to eight weeks, Hughes said. It will only cost the town $2,000 to bring in equipment, but the actual work will fall to Hughes and other helpers from the town.
Bringing in an outside group to complete the testing and other work would have cost almost $30,000, a summary presented to commissioners said.
In addition to Hughes, staff members from the planning and public works departments will assist with the testing. Permanent installation of WiFi equipment may require assistance from Duke Energy and private landowners, but that will also depend on where the equipment will be located.
Right now, the proposed WiFi coverage area will run from just past Cypress and Pine streets and just past Second and Fifth streets. Hughes said it isn’t clear yet how much the whole project will cost but she estimates it will significantly less than $30,000.
Fiber for town, not residents
A more expensive project, outfitting parts of the town with fast fiber Internet service, was one cost that was a splurge for the town.
Bringing fiber to town buildings and other public entities, like schools, public safety departments and libraries, would mean finding a way to build infrastructure. Wendell staff looked toward Holly Springs as an example. The southern Wake town spent over $1 million outfitting its town for fiber Internet service.
Commissioners OK’d spending $9,000 with CTC Technology and Energy to give the town a plan that shows various ways the town can connect to fiber infrastructure, reccomend a plan and estimate a cost. A summary presented to commissioners mentioned that staff anticipates the majority of Wendell’s fiber installation will be above ground, which will save the town money so they won’t have to break ground to install fiber cables.
Underground fiber cables tend to be more reliable for service, since aerial cables are easily affected by weather and other natural elements, much the way powe lines are.
CTC will also have to look at the potential of connecting the town to the North Carolina Research Education Fiber Network (NC REN), which is a network that residents would not be able to access unless they use the Internet from town, public safety, library or school computers. The network is not for individual business or residential users.
But if the town goes forward with fiber, it is possible that a third party can use the infrastructure and provide its own service to residents. It is against the law for any municipality to administer a service like Internet, so residents’ use of fiber in the future would rely on a third party’s participation.
“This is not our business and we don’t want to be in this business,” Hughes said. “We want to improve facilities for our citizens and ... improve citizens’ Internet experience.”
Hughes said even if the fiber service doesn’t go directly to residents, it’s possible other Internet providers could begin providing faster, better Internet service for a lower price to stay competitive with any potential third-party companies that want to provide fiber service to Wendell residents.