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Aurora, Ill., Council to Vote on Fiber Network Expansion

The nearly $200,000 project would stretch the existing fiber-optic network to Naperville. Because the expansion has public safety implications, officials have been evaluating the proposal carefully.

by Steve Lord, The Beacon-News / February 8, 2019

(TNS) — Aurora aldermen are set to take a vote on spending almost $200,000 to extend the city's fiber optic network on the far East Side to connect to Naperville's system.

The vote is set for the regular council meeting at 6 p.m. Feb. 12 in the council chambers, City Hall, 44 E. Downer Place.

Consideration at the council level comes after the proposal has languished in council committees for two months with aldermen and city staff debating if the proposal is a simple capital budget expenditure that has public safety implications, or if it’s something that breaks with the tradition of how the city, and its non-profit fiber partner OnLight Aurora, have traditionally extended fiber.

While both sides have recognized the value of the project as a capital expenditure and its public safety implications, some aldermen have insisted they are doing their due diligence in evaluating all sides of the proposal.

“There has been a lot of discussion, not just about the program, but about what the relationship should be between the city and OnLight Aurora,” said Ald. Robert O’Connor, at large.

O’Connor is chairman of the City Council Finance Committee that has been holding up the proposal to get more definitive information from OnLight Aurora. He said this week the delays have been caused by aldermen doing their jobs.

The Finance Committee did vote at a special meeting this week to pass along the proposal to the full city council, but without a recommendation. As it was the vote to pass it along was 2-1, with Ald. Ted Mesiacos, 3rd Ward, voting against it.

It went immediately to the City Council Committee of the Whole meeting, where aldermen agreed to send it to the full council next week.

Alex Alexandrou, Aurora’s chief management officer, said the proposal to spend $178,137 with NTI National Technologies, of West Chicago, to extend the city’s fiber optic network from the west side of Diehl Road to the east side, and on to connect with Naperville, was a capital project.

He pointed out that it has been in the capital budget for three years, and was put there to establish a second, backup connection with the Naperville system. Aurora and Naperville share emergency communication services, and officials have said when the one connection the cities have at Route 59 goes out, the emergency system is vulnerable.

Aurora information technology officials have said that has happened several times.

Aurora officials looked at three locations to make a second connection to Naperville, and said the connection along Diehl Road was the cheapest.

“At the very least, this is a public safety issue,” said Mayor Richard Irvin. “The city had two outages where we had no connection to Naperville.”

Extending the fiber, though, also has a secondary benefit for Aurora in that it makes it possible for businesses on the east side of Eola Road to hook-up to the fiber network.

Those kind of hook-ups — to other government agencies, education facilities or private business — have traditionally been done by OnLight Aurora and paid for by the entities looking to hook up. Aldermen have been asking if the city was paying to extend fiber to the businesses, something businesses have traditionally paid for.

Right now, Scientel Solutions Inc. is the main business that would want to hook on to the city’s fiber on the east side of Eola Road. But there are three or four lots at the southwest corner of the intersection that could get access to the fiber if it crosses Eola Road, and OnLight Aurora reportedly has non-disclosure agreements with some companies to hook-on there if the fiber is extended.

The discussion over the extension has led to other debate about the relationship between OnLight Aurora and the city, which has been spelled out in several general service agreements between the two.

Both sides have said that agreement needs to be evaluated and likely updated.

“We are looking to modernize and update the agreement between OnLight and the city,” said Alexandrou. “But that should not hold up this capital project.”

He likened it to the city extending a sewer line down a main street, with individual users paying for the “laterals” — the hook-ons to the system.

Ald. Richard Mervine, 8th Ward, said that as discussion has gone on, city staff keeps adding reasons for the city hook-up — the redundant connection to Naperville, a connection to DuPage County for traffic control, and a connection to the DuPage County Sheriff’s Office.

He said staff adding things on “makes you wonder,” and said he worried about a slippery slope of setting a precedent of having the city pay for the economic development hook-ups. He also said OnLight Aurora has not been forthcoming with reports to the council.

“My problem is that we as aldermen make sure we’re getting the right information,” he said.

Alexandrou said that city staff discovered new reasons for the hook-up as the discussion of it was delayed. He said the reasons for the extension were real, and did not like what he said was Mervine’s “insinuation” that it was done “just to get it passed.”

“But you can see the optics here,” Mervine said.

“I’m not in this for optics, Alderman Mervine,” Alexandrou said. “Three years ago, this was part of the capital improvement budget.”

The vote on the extension will be next week, but beyond that, both sides have said they will look at a new agreement between OnLight Aurora and the city.

©2019 The Beacon-News (Aurora, Ill.). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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