Village of YS— Free Wi-Fi downtown coming
- Published: November 6, 2020
Villagers and visitors will soon be able to stream a video, surf the web or upload a live video from downtown Yellow Springs, all without using their mobile phone data plan or hot spot.
The Village of Yellow Springs is providing free Wi-Fi access downtown for a year in a pilot project that could eventually lead to community-owned broadband internet available throughout town.
Later this fall, high-speed fiber optic cables will be laid downtown and 12 Wi-Fi access points will be erected on buildings to provide 1 gigabit wireless internet service downtown. The Wi-Fi is set to go online in early November.
But organizers say it’s just the start of what could be a new municipal utility. In addition to providing water, sewer and electricity, the Village may soon provide broadband internet to residents and businesses — both in and outside of downtown.
“It helps build a foundation for a long-term strategy around broadband and fiber,” said Village Manager Josué Salmerón, who is spearheading the project.
Salmerón has shared updates on the project at several recent Council meetings.
The first phase will cost close to $50,000 and is funded through coronavirus relief grants, including $21,800 from Yellow Springs Schools from a state grant. Salmerón called the initial downtown phase a “proof of concept.”
“If we’re able to do this and do this well, we are able to build out municipal fiber,” Salmerón said. “And we’re doing it on someone else’s dime.”
Salmerón said that the need for high-quality internet has been acute during the pandemic, especially for school children and businesses. The project, he said, is “trying to fill in the gap” for those without sufficient access, which he called an equity issue.
“It’s detrimental to a democracy when you restrict the flow of information based upon social class,” he said.
The Village does not have figures for how many local homes lack internet connection. But another important issue, Salmerón argued, is whether residents have an internet connection that is fast enough.
“It’s not just can they connect, but can they connect at a decent speed?” Salmerón said.
Currently, most villagers pay major telecom companies like Charter Communications (Spectrum) or AT&T for their internet. But those lines into residents’ homes are made from copper, not fiber, and the speed and quality of the connection varies greatly, Salmerón said.
“Copper doesn’t even compete with fiber,” he said.
Thor Sage, executive director of the Miami Valley Educational Computer Association, or MVECA, who is partnering with the village on the project, said the proposed municipal broadband is a “superior level of service” to what is currently available. Sage explained that residents could access “fully synchronous fiber responses,” which enables the same high speeds for uploading as downloading.
“It’s not just a potential entertainment purpose,” Sage said of the feature, “but a tool that could be utilized to support home-based businesses and education.”
MVECA, an information technology center that mostly serves school districts and is based in town, already owns about 100 miles of fiber in the Dayton region, including lines into the village to its facility at 330 E. Enon Road, Sage explained.
As partners, MVECA would install and service the fiber optic lines, as well as provide the village with access to bandwidth, according to Sage.
In 2015 and 2016, Sage participated with local group Springs-Net to explore the possibility of a broadband utility here. A Village-funded feasibility study found there was strong community interest in the idea and estimated it would require an initial local investment of $1 million. But after seeing that price tag, village leadership at the time deemed the project too risky, according to Sage.
But Sage thinks the time is right to invest in municipal broadband, especially with the opportunity afforded by a CARES Act-funded pilot. Other communities are now moving forward with municipal broadband service.
“I think it’s worth pursuing,” he said.
Sage added that the fiber connectivity could eventually be used to develop “smart city” infrastructure for the Village, including remote-read utility meters, traffic light controls, road and street sensors and more.
“There’s a ton you can do with that fiber instructure,” he said.
Salmerón, for one, is convinced that the project is something the village needs, citing research that concludes communities with high-speed internet access have higher wages and property taxes and greater economic activity.
“It’s a good thing,” Salmerón said. “Communities that have implemented fiber, they are better off.”
Salmerón added that such a level of internet service could help community content-producers spread their message far and wide.
“We have a small community but a large following,” Salmerón said. “This could be a way of connecting our community to the world.”
Looking ahead, the Village is exploring ways to roll out the service. In addition to laying out lines downtown, they will also be connecting the GreeneMet apartments on Corry Street. After that, services might be offered to downtown businesses, which can tap directly into the downtown fiber optic cable. Funding for a full build out could eventually come from grants or a municipal revenue bond, Salmerón suggested. In the meantime, the Village crew continues to replace electric poles and clear alleys, which are both needed to pursue the project.
The Springs-Net study did give the Village some good news about the feasibility of municipal broadband, Salmerón said. A survey found that only 35% of households would need to participate for the utility to be viable; meanwhile, more than 80% of residents surveyed said they would sign up for the service.
“With the numbers, I’m pretty confident,” Salmerón said.
In other Council business, from its Oct. 19 regular meeting-—
• Council voted 4–0 to make an offer to purchase a three-acre parcel on the southern edge of the Yellow Springs High School property from the school district for a bike path to Agraria. The $60,000 purchase price would come from the Village green space fund. The Arthur Morgan Institute for Community Solutions, which owns Agraria, will pay $30,000 back to the village over 15 years through annual lease payments. Council member Laura Curliss abstained from the vote because she has performed legal work for the nonprofit.
• The Village announced it hired a new finance director, Matt Dillon, who started work on Oct. 14. Dillon was a senior management analyst in the city manager’s office of budget and evaluation in Cincinnati and worked in real estate finance for FIS Global. He holds a master’s degree in city and regional planning and public administration from The Ohio State University.
• Dillon replaces outgoing finance director Colleen Harris, who started in 2018 and left for a similar position in New Carlisle. Harris wrote in her resignation letter that in the past year she was “tasked with challenges” that made her responsibilities “stressful and frustrating” and that she no longer felt “secure or valued” in her position. In response to a News request for comment on the resignation, Salmerón wrote in an email, “I wish Colleen all the best in her endeavors at New Carlisle.”
• Council unanimously passed “stormwater management guidelines for low impact development” as part of new subdivision regulations, last updated in 1991.
The stormwater management guidelines were aimed at reducing the amount of water that runs off from local properties. Council Vice President Marianne MacQueen said because climate change is causing larger rain events, it was important to update the regulations to promote the use of on-property swales, rain gardens, rain barrels and permeated pavers when residents build additions or add structures to their properties.
“It’s such good and important work in terms of creating storm plan management that both works for the community and for the environment and Yellow Springs Creek and the LIttle Miami,” MacQueen said.
Village Planning and Zoning Administrator Denise Swinger said the new stormwater measures were also needed due to increased infill development in the village. In the past year alone, she noted, there have been 19 permits for additions and 12 permits for accessory structures.
Residents who apply for a building permit will need to complete a worksheet that calculates the impact of the new construction on stormwater flow at the property. They must also submit a stormwater management plan, selecting among the approved mitigation strategies.
In other changes to the subdivision regulations, sidewalks will be required in new developments of more than one acre; larger developments of five acres or more will be required to incorporate parkland or incur a $500 per unit fee to support local parks; and driveways must be a minimum of 12 feet wide.
• A study of the Village’s electric system by an outside consultant concluded that the Village is reaching the limits of its current system. GPD Group’s recommendation is for the Village to make $4.3 million in upgrades even though local electricity growth is currently slow, at 1.2% per year. The study’s author, Jeff Gump, said that there remains “room for some additional development,” but that the village could see more typical increases in electricity use of 2–3% per year depending on how fast development takes place and “who moves into town.”
“We want to make sure that the system is capable [of meeting peak demand] in the near future so that that load growth can occur without any issue,” he said.
• At Council’s invitation, Greene County Auditor David Graham gave a presentation on the property tax valuation process. Recently, the county completed its six-year reappraisal, valuing local properties 19% higher. The average local household will pay $688 more in taxes starting next year.
“I don’t relish increasing property taxes during the pandemic, but it’s my job, so we’ve done our job,” Graham told Council.
Graham said that places like Yellow Springs and Sugarcreek can feel they are getting “picked on” because they see relatively large property values increases, but that “it’s because of the demand.”
“When those sales are skyrocketing, we have to chase those with value,” Graham said.
Graham added that the state requires that the property value appraisals come in between 93–97% of market value, so his office cannot undervalue homes in the village.
Curliss asked how much more money the local schools would see from the recent reappraisal. Graham said he did not have figures at hand, but in a later follow-up email he wrote that he projected $450,000 more property tax revenue for school district coffers next year, an 8% increase over the prior year’s projected revenue.
• Council approved a third quarter supplemental appropriation that included $13,000 in back pay to current and former Council members, who were underpaid due to an accounting error. Council members and the mayor are paid $7,200 annually. On the revenue side, the Village added $135,000 more in federal coronavirus relief funds.
• Council Vice President Marianne MacQueen shared the news that the Village of Yellow Springs has been certified by the National Wildlife Federation as a Community Wildlife Habitat.
• Council met in executive session prior to the meeting for the purpose of potential litigation.
Council’s next regular meeting is Monday, Nov. 2, at 7 p.m. via Zoom.