Decatur City Manager Andrea Arnold plans to “move forward” in building a new fiber optic communications network. Bill Banks for the AJC

Decatur prepares to hire provider to build new communications network

Decatur’s staff will ask commissioners to approve Network Cabling Infrastructures of Duluth, to build a new fiber optic communications network during a 7:30 p.m. meeting, May 6 at City Hall, 509 North McDonough Street.

This comes during a stretch of several months of contention with current provider Comcast, which says the city needs to begin paying a monthly fee of roughly $30,000. Under the original 1999 franchise agreement with Media One (Comcast’s predecessor) the city wasn’t paying anything.

According to City Manager Andrea Arnold, in that initial agreement Decatur allowed Media One to operate in the city right of way, sell subscriptions to customers and charge 25 cents per month fee per customer. Arnold said Media One was allowed to make up to $200,000 off that fee, though she says now she doesn’t know how much it actually collected.

Last fall, with a badly out of date network including very spotty Wi-Fi service, Decatur began issuing request for qualifications to potential vendors to build a new one. Comcast submitted a proposal, Arnold said, “but failed to comply with all the RFQ criteria and was not selected as a qualified bidder.”

Late last year Comcast told the city, according to Arnold, “they are not under any legal obligation to honor the 1999 agreement.” The provider said they would decommission the current network unless the city began paying monthly.

Arnold anticipates it will take 12 to 14 months to build a new network. If the city has to pay Comcast, that could cost over $400,000.

“My goal is to move forward on the new network,” Arnold said recently. “But we need to resolve what to do during the interim. We may need to find a temporary provider. But my real hope is we can try and negotiate with Comcast and that they will be amenable.”

Building the new network will cost a shade under $2 million, will cover 14 city and 10 school sites and, Arnold points out, “will definitely enhance the city’s wireless network.”

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