(TNS) –– GLASGOW –– Representatives working on a project to expand “robust, reliable and affordable” broadband Internet access to communities across Kentucky have been in the process of negotiating for months with officials in Glasgow for the rights it needs to build its portion of a fiber optic network here.
The end of that part of the work appears near, but there is still plenty else to be done.
“About five years ago, the Commonwealth of Kentucky, under the Steve Beshear administration, decided they wanted to build, in partnership with a venture capital firm in Australia, a fiber optic network throughout the state of Kentucky, to service themselves, ostensibly,” said Glasgow Electric Plant Board Superintendent Billy Ray to his board at its last meeting, which was Dec. 21.
Instead of purchasing access and circuits provided by other companies like Windstream and AT&T, they decided they could build their own network more cost effectively, Ray said.
The idea was to provide service to state offices, universities, libraries, local governments, schools and similar organizations.
“From my understanding only a little bit of it has been built in eastern Kentucky, but mostly it has been continued negotiations and design,” he said.
Part of the negotiation has been over franchise agreements that many cities, including Glasgow, require of those service providers, but also the new lines would likely need to connect along some utility poles, and that's where GEPB negotiations come into play.
“If they want to attach to our poles, they need to join Windstream and South Central [Rural Telephone Cooperative] in a joint-use agreement, which is sort of the same as a lease agreement. They want space on our poles, and we've been hammering it out with them.”
At the same time GEPB was negotiating that contract, the Tennessee Valley Authority started exercising its right to regulate the prices charged for pole attachments, so that has complicated the process. Also, the standard pole attachment agreement isn't really set up for a state government entity, so it's had to be modified extensively.
GEPB's attorney, Jeff Herbert, had some concerns about liability issues, Ray said, but the Kentucky Wired representatives have contended they don't have to be liable for anything because they are working as part of the state government.
“Finally we have one that we're ready to sign,” Ray said. “It's set up to be just like our joint pole agreements except that the rent is determined by this formula that TVA has put in place now, which is a lot more than we've been charging South Central and Windstream, so it's up to $34.72 per [year] per pole [for calendar year 2018].”
He said he didn't know at that point how many poles they want to use or where they are, as he hasn't seen any engineering layouts.
Board member Tag Taylor asked what the liability concerns are, and Ray said they mostly were related to things like the possibility of their contractors' causing damage to the pole, for example.
“It's our job to look at the route they want to be on and then survey all those poles, measure and find out if there's space, calculate and find out if the wind loading is such that another cable on there would put the pole in danger, and come back with an estimate of how many hundred thousand dollars it's going to cost to make our poles ready for [them] to attach to,” Ray said. “Then they'll either pay it or pick another route.”
He said that if the contractor backed into a pole or caused damage through some other negligence, then they would be liable, but, otherwise, it's up to the GEPB to determine whether the poles can handle the additional use.
Board Chair Jeff Harned asked whether, if the poles required upgrading for Kentucky Wired's use, Kentucky Wired had to pay for that, and Ray said yes, that entity would have to cover that cost.
Ray said one of his points of contention was that they should have to have a franchise agreement with the city, just as GEPB does, to be on its rights of way, and he said Kentucky Wired has been negotiating an alternative contract with the city to use rather than an a franchise agreement.
With board member Freddie Norris absent, the vote was unanimous among the others to approve the contract.
In September, the Glasgow City Council voted 10-2 on a resolution authorizing the sale of a nonexclusive franchise for construction and maintenance of fiber optic infrastructure for high-speed Internet connectivity. Mayor Dick Doty said it was for the Kentucky Wired project, and such an option would not prevent any other service provider from offering the product. The city then advertised for bids for franchise agreements, but no one bid.
Doty told the Glasgow Daily Times, after no bids were there to open at the appointed time, that Kentucky Wired still wanted to pursue the project but it did not want to have to have a franchise agreement, and a meeting was set up with them, Doty and City Attorney Rich Alexander.
In mid-October, Alexander told the Daily Times the meeting had occurred, but the Kentucky Wired people were supposed to be sending another type of document like they've used with other cities for Glasgow to consider, and then in early November, Doty said the negotiations were still taking place.
Alexander told the Daily Times on Thursday that the document is still going back and forth between the parties for a few minor changes to it, but he expects it to be finalized soon.
“We've basically reached an agreement,” the city attorney said. “It's not a franchise agreement, because there is no franchise with a sovereign entity like the commonwealth of Kentucky, so what the city is doing is a memorandum of understanding between the city and state allowing use of public rights of way,” he said.
The agreement with GEPB says that once Kentucky Wired has access to the city's rights of way, it can use the poles within the right of way.
He said it is his understanding that the network would be limited to use by state government entities, like the court system and the Cabinet for Health and Family Services' offices, and colleges and universities, and possibly other schools.
The Daily Times attempted to reach Kentucky Wired on Thursday but had not received a response by the end of the business day Friday.
©2018 the Glasgow Daily Times (Glasgow, Ky.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.