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Monday, August 28, 2006
Another Broadband Update

I attended an interesting, technically public meeting on Thursday. Here I report some of what I saw and heard.

On Thursday afternoon American Fork Mayor Heber Thompson and most of the City Council (all but Councilman LeBaron) met to discuss the status and disposition of AFCNet, the city's municipal broadband system. Also present were Chief of Staff Melanie Marsh; Jerry Kite, a very bright volunteer consultant with extensive executive experience in telecommunications; and, for part of the meeting, representatives from one of the six firms which answered the City's Request for Proposal (RFP) a few weeks ago.

This was technically a public meeting, noticed in advance as the law requires. However, judging by some of the information which was quite freely discussed, I'm not sure everyone present realized that at first. It wasn't obvious, perhaps, because I was the only member of the public there. To the extent that blogging makes me news media, too, I was also the only news media presence. So mine is probably the only report of the meeting you will see. I intend to be discrete.

The overall impression was of serious, intelligent people engaged in a productive discussion of technically and financially complex issues. In that way it was more interesting and in a sense more satisfying than a lot of City meetings I've attended over the years.

The Likely Timing of a Decision

There were six proposals in response to the RFP, all of which have been evaluated to some degree already. Each will receive some systematic additional consideration in the next few weeks. But I have the impression that there are two clear front-runners.

I learned some interesting details about both of the apparent front-runners, none of which I will report at this point. Tentatively, I tend to think the system might fare well in the hands of one, or perhaps either, of the two. Again I won't be specific, but the dollar amounts discussed seemed appropriate, so the City would probably fare reasonably well in that respect, too.

Part of the process -- which I think is already under way -- is scoring the proposals numerically according to the matters discussed in the RFP. The RFP itself indicates the relative weighting of scoring categories. Then there will be some additional investigation of the companies themselves to insure that the scoring of their proposals aligns with reality.

Then the City will decide either to accept one proposal or to reject them all. If they do the latter, they may issue another RFP in the near future. If they accept a proposal, more months of work and negotiation will follow.

I don't expect the City to make a decision until at least the end of September; there's a significant amount of work to be done before then.

This and That

Finally, the meeting featured a few other interesting morsels.

I missed the first 20 or 25 minutes of the meeting, due to another obligation, but was present for the last hour. As I arrived, discussion was of the fact that the long fiber-optic line into downtown Salt Lake City is nearly complete, but it's getting difficult to free the necessary personnel from other duties at AFCNet so they can finish the job. UTOPIA is set to pay $1.5 million when the line is complete, for the fraction of the fiber they are purchasing. Councilman Gunther pointed out that it makes little sense to delay the completion of the line and the associated payment out of reluctance to incur the relatively small additional cost of timely completion. Perhaps that unreasonable situation will shortly be remedied, by outsourcing or some other means.

I learned at the meeting that the City's IT director, Lynne Yocum, is leaving the City's employ right away to take a position with the Utah Department of Transportation (UDOT) at their West Valley facility. Apparently, the City was not eager to see her go and made a serious effort to match UDOT's offer. I think the daily commute from American Fork to West Valley could be an illuminating experience for a UDOT official. (I made the same commute for a while to the adjacent American Express facility. I don't miss it.)

Here's some good news: A fiber line to businesses on 500 East in American Fork is nearly complete. Another is being extended to businesses on the east side of the city. These extensions will finally allow AFCNet's service to extend to numerous businesses. As yet, there is no access to AFCNet at or near the Meadows development on the west side of the city.

Finally -- and again I'll avoid details -- the City seems to have made considerable progress in getting at least one ISP which was seriously in arrears to come more nearly current in its payments to the City.

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