Since the town committed funds to investigate bringing high-speed Internet to downtown and analyze the potential for expanding fiber service to downtown Wendell more than four months ago, testing has finally been completed and during a commissioner’s meeting on Feb. 9 town leaders heard from a consultant about how to move forward.
Testing proved successful and further installation of equipment will likely be completed within three or four months. The project’s progress is heavily dependent on Duke Energy, weather and inspections, said Wendell IT Administrator Tamah Hughes.
Currently Internet for the town’s facilities runs at 10 megabites per second, a crawling pace that could use an upgrade to 50 megabites per second that would be shared with public wifi access downtown.
Matt DeHaven, an engineer from Kensington, Md.-based consulting firm CTC Technology, said the Federal Communications Commission’s most recent standards would not even consider the town’s Internet as broadband, which is 25 megabites.
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Residents in attendance at the meeting snickered at this.
“It’s unfortunate, not funny,” DeHaven said. He added that necessary services include public wifi, cloud services, video communications and surveillance and virtualized server environments.
Previous to the wi-fi discussion, Mayor Tim Hinnant had expressed concern about the fund balance. Town Manager Teresa Piner informed the board that they were at 43 percent in their fund balance, and after completing upcoming projects, the town’s savings would sink to 40 percent, which is the lowest it can be under town policy.
Yet the wi-fi project would have a significant cost. So far, the projected cost is $22,591.37, not including labor7. To maintain the wi-fi, the town will need to pitch in an additional $1,188.20 monthly, or $14,000 annually.
The electrical costs alone will reach around $6,000 for installation.
In order for the town to pursue high connectivity at the lowest cost, DeHaven encouraged the town to look for a more competitive provider. At $27,184 annually for Internet service Wendell currently pays far more than it should, he said, nearly double of what businesses in D.C. would be paying.
DeHaven had several recommendations for the town to move forward with the first phase of fiber installation.
A short-term cost with a private investment would pay off in the long term, attracting businesses, he said.
One option commissioners liked was to create infrastructure and an appealing business plan to encourage a current fiber path that already runs through the town to install an “off ramp” for their network.
Level 3 Communications and several other companies are running fiber through Wendell, and the town hopes to propose a business plan to encourage their connection in Wendell, Hughes said.
The costs would be $41,000 for an annual upgrade and then $125,000 annually for fiber connectivity.
In order for the town to build and control the project, the cost would be about $300,000.
“It’s not cheap, but this isn’t an easy location to build,” he said. “It would be easier to install if you couple it with sidewalk projects, but you also have a lot of hard rock under the surface which drives the cost higher. This is a safe budgetary number.”
Hinnant moved to place Commissioner Sam Laughery in charge of a task force to form the best course of action.
Laughery agreed, wrapping up the discussion by requesting that the town manager return to the board with a list of priorities to compare with the fund balance standing.
As of Feb. 13, Laughery, Piner, Hughes and two citizens – Michael Hunter – had formed a task force and were working on long-term plans, economic development and how to market the wifi to businesses.