Council to review gigabit-Internet deal with AT&T

Apr. 19, 2014 @ 07:14 PM

The push for gigabit-per-second-speed Internet service in Durham reaches the City Council this week, in the form of a proposed agreement with AT&T officials hope will yield its first connections in mid-2015.

The deal calls for the city to cooperate with AT&T network-installation efforts, speeding the review of any needed regulatory approvals and inspections so the project can move forward quickly.
In return, the company is pledging to Durham and five other participating cities that it will provide free, public service at 100 public- or nonprofit-controlled “community sites,” free service to up to 10 low-income housing projects and early access to up to 100 small- and medium-sized businesses.
Meanwhile, Durham officials are “about 99 percent finished” with answering questions from Google that could lead to a decision by that company to move ahead with a gigabit fiber network of its own, City Manager Tom Bonfield said.
The main issue remaining there also requires City Council action, namely to say whether it’s willing to allow Google to place “network huts” full of switching equipment on city land.
A draft agreement on that point could reach the council during the same Thursday work session that will see members look over the AT&T deal. But the timing on that will depend on Google, which wants to sign off on the network-hut agreement first.
Both networks, if they come, would represent a major improvement on the sort of cable or DSL Internet connections that are the norm in homes and many businesses in the area.
The AT&T proposal comes in response to a recruiting effort that’s seen Durham band together with the governments of Carrboro, Cary, Chapel Hill, Raleigh and Winston-Salem to seek gigabit-speed service.
The cities are working in concert with Duke University, UNC Chapel Hill, N.C. State University and Wake Forest University on the “North Carolina Next Generation Network” project, and all told drew interest from eight companies.
AT&T’s proposal is the first to reach an elected board.
Time Warner Cable has also confirmed its involvement in the process. The identity of the other providers to respond “will remain confidential” until agreements are signed with them, said Elise Kohn, a Duke IT staffer who’s project manager for the initiative.
Google’s effort appears to be on a separate track and is focusing exclusively on the Triangle. The California firm is working with officials in Carrboro, Cary, Chapel Hill, Garner, Morrisville and Raleigh as it evaluates the region as a fiber-network prospect.
AT&T’s proposed deal with Durham specifies that the company intends to install service in neighborhoods where demand for high-speed service “is expected to compensate [the company] fully for the cost” to deploy it.
The choice of areas will be up to the company, which “will do its own analysis” of the underlying economics, Kohn said.
Local officials in seeking proposals from gigabit providers thought the most likely targets would cluster around Duke, downtown, N.C. Central University, Duke Regional Hospital and RTP.
Moreover, as “the build-out will continue for several years,” “additional areas will be identified over time,” Kohn said.
The “community sites” and housing projects ticketed for free service have yet to be named. They will be apportioned among the six cities “roughly on [the cities’] comparative population sizes,” Kohn said.