After long deliberation, utility board members in Traverse City have taken a firm step toward Internet infrastructure in order to improve connectivity in Michigan’s “Cherry Capital of the World.” The board of Traverse City Light & Power (TCL&P) voted unanimously to adjust their six-year capital improvement plan to include the cost of a citywide fiber network.
Making A Decision
City leaders have considered several options to give residents and businesses better Internet access. They’ve had their own fiber infrastructure for about ten years, which they’ve leased to schools and hospitals and used to offer free downtown Wi-Fi. For over a year now, they’ve tossed around several possibilities on how to move forward to meet the demands of the community.
TCL&P has mulled over the pros and cons of offering retail services themselves as well as leasing the infrastructure to a single provider. The consultants who developed their feasibility study examined both options. A local group of tech enthusiasts encouraged TCL&P to consider an open access plan, but their consultants reviewed the option and advised against it. Other options were to do nothing or work with an electric cooperative serving the rural areas around the city.
At their May 10th meeting, board members decided to eliminate the option that places TCL&P in the role as retail ISP. They will expand the existing network by another 184 fiber miles over the next two years to approximately 10,800 customers; TCL&P will own and operate the infrastructure, but they intend to seek some other entity to serve as ISP. The up front investment is lower with this plan than if they were to operate as a muni ISP and they’ve had discussions with at least one interested provider. TCL&P officials note that their current decision doesn’t prevent them from an open access arrangement or contracts with multiple providers in the future.
Board members decided they weren’t ready for the extra investment required for TCL&P to serve as ISP in addition to infrastructure management:
“Jumping into a new industry when you have no experience in that industry is just…not a good way to go,” said Vice-Chair Jeff Palisin. “If down the road it makes sense to get into it, then we can really do our due diligence in getting into a new business.”
The City Commission and the Planning Commission must both approve the amended capital improvement plan. Deploying the network will cost approximately $10 million; the city intends to bond. Construction should start in the fall of 2018 or spring of 2019. Traverse City expects to break even in the second year through contracting with an ISP.