Council Gives Unanimous Thumbs Up to High Speed Internet Pilot Program

By Jeff Toquinto on August 25, 2014 via

Shortly after Bridgeport Finance Director Monica Musgrave explained how much money was needed and where it was coming from to help spearhead a pilot program aimed at creating at “Gigabit” city, members of Bridgeport City Council quickly – and unanimously – signed off on it.
Council’s approval of $100,000 for a pilot program could pave the way for a new high speed internet program that could be up to 200 times faster than what is currently available in Bridgeport. The money set aside today will pay for the fiber optic cable and other intangible equipment to make that happen in a small test area of 100 homes to get the gigabit service. A gigabit is a term that describes the fast rate of the data being transferred and processed by the newly proposed connection.
City Manager Kim Haws said the goal is to start the program early in January of 2015 and be finished at the end of June to provide six months of data. If that numbers are positive, then he said he believes city staff will recommend to Council to being the process of doing the expansion across all of Bridgeport.
The cost to make all of Bridgeport a “Gigabit” city?
Haws said those numbers aren’t concrete. However, he did say it’s a full-fledged program would be a multi-million dollar investment.
“I’m betting were looking at $5 or $6 million,” said Haws. “If we start this, when people begin signing up it will help cash flow it, but it’s got to make sense fiscally for the city to do this … We can’t burden our taxpayers with an additional utility if it doesn’t pay for itself. Council is fully committed that there is enough use that the turnaround will help pay off the investment.”
The decision on whether it even is recommended that Council moves forward after the pilot program is complete ultimately lies in the hands of Bridgeport’s residents. In particular, it will lie in the hands of a 100-house section of homes on Valley, Vista, Village and parts of Ridgeway Drive.
According to Haws, there won’t be 100 homes using the new service. Instead, service will be taken to these 100 homes and those homes will have the choice to sign up for it or not.
“The fiber will be run to those homes, but the question is whether they buy into it. If they don’t buy into it, it may stay coiled up there on the poles,” said Haws. “Out of those 100 homes, we’ll see how many take advantage of it.”
What that means is that no one in those 100 homes will have to get the service. If those in the area do, they will pay a fee that is tentatively listed as being between $5 and $75. Haws said the residents have to be in to this to make it work. He said there’s no doubt that the business community will utilize this if it’s available.
Council member Diana Marra said all the feedback she’s received and reviewed has been positive. She said comments on the Web site and its social media pages such as Facebook were littered with comments on people wanting to get on board.
“I think our community is very excited about this opportunity,” Marra said.
Council member Darrell Bowen also spoke highly of it.
“I think this really has some potential to be extremely positive for the city,” said Bowen.
While the program isn’t the first of its kind nationally, it is the first of its kind to be proposed in West Virginia. The city has worked with Bridgeport-based Citynet, who is not charging Bridgeport for its services on the program.
This afternoon, the Technology Committee of the interim session of the West Virginia Legislature came to Citynet to hear the about Bridgeport’s pilot program. Members asked to hear the results to see if it could be taken to other parts of the state, as well as help out rural areas (click HERE to read that story).
Haws ended his presentation by saying that he hopes the project does move forward and that it can be utilized and developed elsewhere. He said it is part of Bridgeport’s responsibility to be good shepherds of the program if it works.
“In Bridgeport our quality of life is wonderful, but there are areas of the state where the quality of life isn’t what it should be and maybe by taking this project elsewhere it can change that,” said Haws. “Maybe we can change the paradigm about the way people think about technology in West Virginia.”
The item was the only official item on the agenda for Monday’s meeting. City Recorder Bob Greer filled in for Mayor Mario Blount, who Greer said missed for personal matters. Greer stepped in with the mayor’s report or, in this case, the recorder’s report.
Greer heaped praise on staff and volunteers for the recently completed West Virginia Municipal League Conference. He also said that he was named treasurer for the organization and that by way of rotation could be up for the position of president in four years.
Also, Greer talked about the success of the Summer Jams Concert Series at City Park. The events were sponsored by the Bridgeport Arts Council.
Haws’ report included information on the upcoming Bridgeport Safety and Preparedness Expo. He said it is set for Sept. 13 at Bridgeport High School. 

Editor's Note: Bridgeport Finance Director Monica Musgrave is pictured in the top photo explaining the budget revision that allowed Council to approve $100,000 for the project, while City Manager Kim Haws headed much of this evening's discussion. City Recorder Bob Greer ran the meeting due to the absence of Mayor Mario Blount.

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