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Village Council— Group urges a village-wide fiber network

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A municipal fiber optic network would bring new jobs and business to the village, Village Council members were recently advised.

“The connection between economic development and municipal broadband is undeniable,” said Scott Fife, a member of Springs-Net, at Council’s Feb. 16 meeting. Springs-Net, a group of villagers who have met for the past year to explore bringing a muncipal fiber network to Yellow Springs, presented Council with an update on their findings at the meeting, urging the Village to design, construct and manage a gigabit passive optical network, or GPON, that would connect to every household and business location in town.

Yellow Springs has a particular need for a municipal fiber network due to the number of villagers who work at home, Fife said, stating that there are about 195 home-based businesses in the village, up 35 percent in the last 15 years. And the number of home-based engineering or scientific workers, who often need high-speed Internet, has increased 69 percent during that time, he said.

Yellow Springs is also uniquely positioned for a municipal fiber optic network, according to the group’s written report to Council. First, the Village owns its electric utility, so that it also owns the rights of way, including most of the utility poles in the village. Also, a central data center is required for the network and the village already has such a center in the nonprofit MVECA, or the Miami Valley Educational Computer Association, which would be an “ideal” partner for infrastructure development, the report stated.

However, moving ahead with a fiber network does involve some financial outlay from Village government, according to the group, which said that if the Village chooses to go ahead, Springs-Net will issue bonds to pay for the $3 to 4 million total cost, so as to not use money from the Village general fund. But initially an engineering study to assess the doability of the project would be useful. The cost of the study, to be borne by Village government, could be about $50,000, Springs-Net member Timothy Barhorst said this week.

The group also requested that Council meet with them in a working session focused on the issue.

Council expressed interest and agreed to meet in April, Barhorst said. And while Council members expressed enthusiasm for the project, they also had concerns about the Village’s capacity to develop a fiber optic network as a public utility.

“What you’re asking of Council and our staff is an incredible amount of work and financial support,” Council President Karen Wintrow said.

The system recommended by Springs-Net is a gigabit passive optical network, in which a central data center shoots light through tiny glass wires to transmitters in homes and businesses, which convert the light to electrical signals. The network is much faster and more efficient than the current Internet service provided to villagers by AT&T and Time Warner, Fife stated.

“We could expect better quality and exponentionally faster service at a cheaper price,” he said.

About 80 municipalities in the country provide such a service to their residents at this time, group members said, although doing so would make Yellow Springs the first town in Ohio to provide a fiber optic network to both homes and businesses.

“We propose that Yellow Springs have the first gigabit fiber network in the state that goes to every address in the village,” Fife said.

However, many questions need to be answered, including those of the Village Electric and Water Distribution Supervisor Johnnie Burns, who has previously raised concerns regarding how the network would interface with the electric system, according to Village Manager Patti Bates. Council member Judith Hempfling suggested that the group research how other communities have adopted a municipal broadband network. According to Barhorst, the group has been in close communication with Sandy, Ore., which has developed a network.

While cautious, Council members expressed considerable interest in the project.

“If we could make this happen, it would be fantastic,” Hempfling said.

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