Stillwater exploring feasibility for new broadband network

Beau Simmons/Stillwater News Press Special Projects Director John McClenny delivers a presentation Monday to the Stillwater Utilities Authority on whether to fund a feasibility study for a new broadband network. The SUA approved $150,000 for the study.

The Stillwater Utilities Authority has approved funds for a feasibility study that has the potential to equip Stillwater with a new broadband network. Upload and download speeds would be unlike anything Stillwater has ever seen, but there is a lot that has to be considered for that to happen.

City staff had sent out requests for qualifications to various companies to see if they could provide the study to determine if Stillwater should create a community owned and operated broadband utility. Special Projects Director John McClenny said they had narrowed down the selections to three companies, and had asked the SUA to approve $150,000 from the SUA contingency fund.

“Before we proceed to asking them to provide us with detailed proposals and scope of services we wanted to make sure we had the budget in place to move forward, and that’s estimated to be $150,000,” he said. “The study would tell us things such as whether or not there’s a market for this in Stillwater, what the capital and operating costs would be and if there’s a revenue potential – which is important – because at the very least it’s got to break even and at best it’s got to back revenue.

“Benefits of this will be revenue, but the other benefits is have a speed of gigabit per second up and 1 gigabit per second down, synchronized somehow. This is significantly faster than anything that’s available in Stillwater right now, so it will be a benefit both to businesses, potential future industrial customers, technology-driven businesses and residents.”

Vice-mayor Pat Darlington asked how it would work with all those other companies.

McClenny said there were a lot of possible service models, some that would put the City of Stillwater in direct competition with other providers, but another model could provide the fiber network that other providers use.

“That’s been one of the big questions that we’ve had, is whether this is something that typically goes in rural areas where they don’t have a lot of options, but there’s at least one other community in Oklahoma, Sallisaw – Fort Collins, Colorado – and several other communities that had other options but chose to go with this anyway,” McClenny said. “It’s been across the board. Would this fly in Stillwater or not, that’s one of the things we need to know from the study.”

Billy Palmisano, systems administrator for the Stillwater Electric Utility, said it would be a huge technological leap for Stillwater.

“To me, this is no different than when someone sat around the house 100 years ago, and said, you know what would be nice, to have electric service inside our house. Now, the difference between this situation, to me, and a situation like that, is we’ve had the ability to access the internet prior to this, however, when we talk about availability of service, quality of service as well as where we rank compared to the rest of the world, the U.S. is not a leader in that,” he said. “What you see in the news, net neutrality is a big deal, it’s allowing people to have control over their vision for the future and how they stay connected to the rest of the world. It’s just a basic question, do we want to lead the way and have the ultimate decision on the path that we take, or do we want to let others help us on that path.”

He said it has the potential to put Stillwater on the same level of connectivity as Oklahoma State University.

“To me, this is a community-based project that has an effect on not only the citizenry, but businesses and the university. The university already went down this road and works with a state agency called OneNet and they have two fiber backbones that come in, one from Langston and one from Tulsa, and they thrive on this,” he said. “They would not be one of the top tier quality universities in the country had they not had access to a network like this. And, I think not only between the citizenry and the potential for business, it’s a fantastic thing for this community. Not being from here, I really want to see this community grow. I would love to do whatever we can to be at the forefront of what it means to be an Oklahoman.”

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