What’s new on the plateau

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Patrick Taylor – Highlands Mayor

Bids have been opened for the lease and operation of the Highlands fiber optic network which is in the final stages of construction.  The town received complete bids from NC Broadband Group, BalsamWest and Hotwire.

The next step will be to select the best bid and move forward with developing and signing a 25-year contract.  The board started this process last Tuesday with a special meeting to review the  bids. The process of selecting an operator will continue without delay.  This selection process will also be on the agenda of the November board meeting.  I anticipate additional special meetings to address contract issues.

The town has been working to build a fiber optic network for over five years.  This initiative is called the Highlands Smart Cities Project. With fiber to the home (FTTH), this community will be in a strategic position for the future.  Frankly,  WNC communities are continuing to struggle with full broadband access.  This project is a smart city project in that residents, businesses and the town will eventually be able to monitor and manage utilities like water and electric. The town electric and water systems will be enhanced by this monitoring system, and residents will have similar options within their homes.

I believe there are several issues to be considered in selecting the private provider.  First, revenues from the lease need to pay back the investment that the town has made in constructing the network. Second, the services need to be reliable and include various options for customers.  When the town started the project five years ago the goal was to have an open network. Consequently,  we attempted, unsuccessfully, to do a 10-year lease with Wide Open Networks. Since that time I have come to realize that almost any network that provides ample broadband is an open network for consumers. For instance, there are many options available right now for streaming TV channels.  For customers, changing TV streaming service is just a click away on the internet.  Finally, I hope we can find a network operator that will be a good community partner by providing services that promote community interaction and engagement.

We anticipate the network being completed by the end of the year.  Rainstorms have slowed work down. Currently, the contractor is doing the tedious task of fusing the glass fiber together to unify the network.  The contractual agreement for the provider may take about as long to complete.  Once the contract is signed the company will have to begin staging and setup an office.  That process may take as long as three months, so new customers will follow sometime in the first or second quarters of the new year.

On another note, road paving projects funded for this year’s budget got underway this week.  It should take a week or two to complete the paving. The contractor has as many as 10 trucks delivering the asphalt needed for paving a road.  The paving should move rather fast, barring no rain and storm events.

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