While he is not shutting the door completely on the possibility of Solon becoming its own internet provider, an endeavor that can cost upwards of $15 million, Mayor Edward H. Kraus said last week it is not something the city will pursue at this time.
His comments followed a survey of residents and businesses to gauge their feedback on their current broadband connection.
The survey was meant to gather information following the shelving by City Council’s finance committee last year of a feasibility study at just over $45,000 to explore the possibility of Solon being an internet provider. The matter never made it to the full City Council for its consideration.
Committee members raised objections on the endeavor, citing the time it would take to see a profit as well as the liability the city would have financially if revenue did not meet expectations. They also believed this belonged in private industry.
Information Technology Director Jim Gibbs said that the survey showed that residents, maybe not so much the businesses, have a need for a greater choice in the companies that provide Internet service to them.
“We are lacking in that choice,” Mr. Gibbs said.
Instead of becoming its own provider, Mayor Kraus said that instead the city may pursue a Smart City initiative with providers in the area. Service is provided to Solon by either Spectrum or AT&T, although AT&T technically is not at the level of what the federal government deems as broadband, Mr. Gibbs said, so the only one exceeding that threshold is Spectrum.
Smart City initiatives involve getting data points from your community to give you better visibility in the day-to-day operations, and using those data points to make better business decisions going forward, Mr. Gibbs explained.
Mayor Kraus said the city has begun the process of meeting with providers to better understand their five- and 10-year plan going forward. He said plans are to meet with Spectrum to discuss the Smart City initative, and to look at bandwidth and fiber optics.
“This is a long-term project,” the mayor said. “Whether it’s with Spectrum or someone else, we will look at how we can increase capacity, reduce cost and provide better WiFi, mobile and Internet services.
“I think we have the opportunity to create a Smart City program, but we can’t do it on our own,” Mayor Kraus said. “We don’t have the financial resources to be able to do it, and we don’t even have the capacity in terms of personnel.”
Mr. Gibbs said he will help with whatever is needed for this process and with bringing other providers to Solon, but still is a proponent of a Municipal Internet Service Provider.
“I think it can be a fantastic tool,” he said of Solon being its own provider, “so I’m going to continue to keep an eye on what other municipalities are doing for those projects.”
Mr. Gibbs said if the administration’s appetite changes, “I’m ready as well.
“But for now my focus is going to be doing what I can to advocate on behalf of other providers or entice other providers to come to Solon to give residents a choice,” he said. “I don’t know how much I can do but will do everything I can come up with.”