At the June 2 Fountain Council meeting, Clerk Mary Tjepkes and Mayor Jim Schott noted the rapidly approaching end of the city contract with Frontier Communications. The contract, which provides phone, fax, and internet, is set to expire July 21. Tjepkes has frequently indicated several problems with the service and now the city is considering other options.
Kyle Moorhead, of Hometown Fiber, presented the city with a consulting proposal at the May 5 meeting. The proposal would see the firm build the network for the city if it’s a fit or provide just the consulting fee if it’s not. The cost to navigate a fiber optic system, discuss priorities and goals, conduct a field study, and update broadband maps reporting correct information back to the state was $475 for 48 months. Jill Huffman, vice president of operations for Harmony Telephone, and Marty Shaw, Mediacom Communications, were at the recent meeting to discuss what their respective companies could offer the city.
Harmony is a conglomeration of Spring Grove Communications, Harmony Telephone and MiBroadband. “Our primary mission is expanding broadband. We’re somewhat local, not too far down the road,” began Huffman. Recent news of the city searching for options piqued the firm’s curiosity. “It can be difficult to navigate. We just want to be part of the conversation. Here in Fountain you’re in a unique position of having several providers and various technologies. It’s unique to have all of those things going on, but there are various barriers. If there’s a sense in the community that there’s an issue, we just want to be in the conversation,” she added.
While Harmony didn’t have a proposal at the meeting, several options beyond just a service contract were detailed. “If you’re adding security cameras, upload speed will be crucial, depending on who is monitoring and from there. If there’s limited upload, you’ll have poor quality,” said Huffman. Even if the city opts not to contract with Harmony, it can provide consulting and installation of the security system for the city, as well as other consulting assistance. Huffman also cautioned that increasing use of video technology for meetings draws from bandwidth. With both Tjepkes using the internet at city hall and Public Works Director John Hanson using it on a handheld utility device and laptop, usage is currently very limited. “You’re caught in a cycle that you can’t both do upload capabilities at the same time,” added Huffman.
Mediacom presented a proposal. “I know that nobody switches unless they want to spend less money, make more money, or alleviate problems,” said Shaw. He sought out details on specific problems and Tjepkes noted difficulties with speed, particularly uploading. After further discussion, Shaw noted that the city is also likely having issues with ping or latency levels, which should be right around 20. He suggested Tjepkes use an online speed test to determine what the city is actually getting through Frontier.
Shaw presented four options for contracted prices varying in upload/download speed and term length. It was noted the price does increase annually. Shaw further suggested several additional tips including eliminating the second fax phone line, opting to utilize the main line instead, having the city purchase a dual router, as they are currently renting from Frontier, and allowing Mediacom to directly request porting of the main line number from Frontier, to keep it the same, should the city decide to go with Mediacom. Porting of the number can take time, so Shaw suggested the city decide soon. “It sounds like it’s alleviating pain in this situation,” he added.
Councilor Colleen Foehrenbacher asked whether or not Tjepkes had requested Frontier send a representative to discuss the issues. Tjepkes indicated she hadn’t and noted she had to contact the company when the last contract expired and strike an amended deal. It was stated that Frontier simply cannot offer more as they are limited on copper technology.
Following the presentations, the council discussed the options briefly and at least two on the council expressed having issues with Mediacom service. Foehrenbacher had no issues. “I’m curious how many others in town are having issues. Is it the infrastructure in town or service providers?” she asked. “I’d like to set up a meeting with Jill to learn more about Fountain’s infrastructure and then bring the information back here.” Foehrenbacher was given the green light to meet with Huffman and the city will seek proposals from Harmony to consider with all other offers.
Also present at the meeting was local businessman Mike Drury, representing Drury’s Furniture. “We have an idea and we wanted to check with you folks and just check the mood,” he began. Looking at aerial photos of both Drury’s and city hall/fire station property, Drury indicated that both properties have boundaries with each other at an angle, due to the former railway lines, with buildings roughly 67-feet apart. “We’re looking for a way to do more business with patio furniture and are considering a glassed-in lean-to on one side of the building, which is currently green space. Would you folks be interested if we investigated the possibility of having property surveyed and possibly purchase a portion so that we can showcase patio furniture?” he asked.
Schott stated that Public Works would have to investigate any utility in the area and that Drury would need to present the idea to the Zoning Commission, who would then provide a recommendation for or against the idea to the council for consideration. Drury will proceed with the zoning process right away in hopes that something could be constructed next year if given the go-ahead by council.
The city also considered a letter from resident Ryan Aasum regarding his ongoing buyout/purchase of property to the west of his residence at 105 Third Street. He was recently made aware that portions of his property are on city easement land. As it is not fully within his property, Aasum was directed to have the matter sorted before he can proceed. As it would also significantly decrease property value if it were left as is, it was suggested to Aasum by Greg Schieber, Nethercut Law, that the city could gift or vacate 10 to 15-feet of the area in question. This would solve the issues and leave the city with 10-feet of easement on the end of the street. Aasum is intending to cleanup the property adjacent to his and remove the mobile home that currently sits along Highway 52.
“Having been through this myself, I think this is good,” said Schott. He added that property lines years ago were by sight and approximation, which leaves cities with sometimes muddled property and easement lines. “It’s been there for a number of years and you can’t move it. I suggest we gift or vacate that part.” The council approved the decision unanimously.
Lastly, the council approved selling the Village Square a “10 minutes” parking sign that they recently used. The idea is that the restaurant will be allowed to use the sign when other events are held. The sign was valued at $21 and sold to Village Square for one dollar less.
The next regularly scheduled meeting is Wednesday, July 7, at 7 p.m., at city hall. It is open to the public.