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City Agrees to High Speed Internet Project

By Neil Farrell

Morro Bay City Council has agreed to a contract with a high tech communications firm to connect all of its offices with high-speed Internet service, and to perhaps jump start some economic growth should local businesses decide to hook up to the system.

The Council voted 3-0, with Mayor Jamie Irons and Councilman John Headding stepping down, as they own businesses in the affected area, to give Digital West $150,000 to help the company string new fiber optic cable in a big loop through town.

In a staff report, Deputy City Manager Sam Taylor said the City has most of its offices connected to the Internet via fiber optic line, but not all of them.

Taylor said the new City Hall Annex on Harbor Street, the Visitor’s Center/Chamber of Commerce building at 695 Harbor, the Teen Center on Atascadero Road and the school resource officer’s desk at Morro Bay High are not hooked up to the current system and ideally, they would like to have the same connections for all of the City’s facilities.

Money for the project is included in the current fiscal year budget and the City went out for bids in February but only got two bids. Taylor said one bid was essentially non-responsive in that the company out of the Bay Area proposed to string the lines but that was all.

The other company, Digital West Networks, Inc., of San Luis Obispo, was open to a partnership with the City, wherein the City would subsidize the construction project and Digital West would be able to sell connections to the system to business customers. The City signed a 5-year agreement with an option for another 5 years.

Eventually, the company could seek to run additional cable offering its service to everyone in town, a project Taylor said could run upwards of $6 million, and be entirely paid for by Digital West.

The City currently pays some $48,000 a year for what Taylor called “dark fiber” lines, the wires to the buildings but not the data they stream.

“The City has free use of 100 megabits per second speeds of Internet connectivity, thanks to a partnership with Optic Access for a 5-year period,” Taylor said. “Were that partnership to go away, the City would also be paying that Internet cost.”

The Digital West system would have minimum speeds of 1 gigabyte per second, some 10 times faster and a speed that is attractive to high tech companies.

The idea originated in the Local Economic Action Plan or LEAP process, which the City conducted in 2015, as a means to investigate ways to stimulate and grow the economy.

The idea is that with this high-speed service available, the City would be more attractive to companies that need that kind of service, bringing high paying, head-of-household wage jobs to town.

It’s part of a strategy to bring in new businesses that are outside the tourism industry, to diversify the economy and better weather economic downturns that can depress tourism.

“Think Google Fiber speeds,” Taylor said. “The next part of the project would involve a fiber ring being constructed in the downtown core, in order to help spur additional economic development of business sectors that could greatly use those faster Internet speeds.”

Digital West, in Phase 1 of the project, would connect the Downtown City facilities in a 13,000-foot loop, that includes under-grounding some 4,000 feet of the lines (mostly on the Embarcadero). The other 9,000 feet will be strung along existing power poles. For now, the Teen Center and sewer treatment plant would not be hard-wired but use a wireless system. The network hub will be located in the Harbor Street Fire Station.

The City could have to pay to get out of its current 5-year contract, a sum that could reach $15,000. But Taylor said the deal would cut the City’s costs for Internet service to $2,000 a month from the current $4,000.

Phase 2 of the project would have Digital West offering to connect businesses to the system and Phase 3 would extend the wires to offer the service to residents. Taylor made a point of saying people do not have to connect to the system, it is totally voluntary.

A couple of audience members questioned the need saying they are now with Charter Cable and find the 100 Mb speeds sufficient.

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