Some areas of Westminster could see high-speed Internet by the spring if the pilot phase of the city's fiber network stays on schedule.
The Mayor and Common Council voted unanimously Monday to select Toronto-based Ting, a subsidiary of Tucows Inc., as its Internet network operator. The firm will devise a fee structure and manage a fiber optics network being built by the city, which will retain ownership of the network. Though the fee structure has not been set, Ting officials hope to keep the price under $90 a month.
The city budgeted $6.3 million in the current fiscal year for network construction.
"From the very beginning, it was obvious that they understood what we were trying to do," said Council President Robert Wack. "We got a lot of feedback from other responses that was questioning to flat-out skeptical."
Westminster's plan to invest in constructing a fiber optic cable network then partner with a service provider to light the fiber and provide high-speed Internet access is the perfect division of roles between public and private entities, said Tucows Vice President of Marketing Michael Goldstein.
"It's really just about being on an existing network and offering a better service," he said.
Ting emerged as a mobile service provider using the Sprint network, Goldstein said. Expanding to provide similar services using fiber optic networks was a natural progression, he said.
Westminster sent a request for proposals for a network operator at the end of the summer and had responses by September, Wack said. Ting began to distinguish itself as a solid partner for the endeavor, he said.
"There are so many communities around the country waiting for fiber," said Director of Networks Adam Eisner. "It's great that Westminster is taking the lead."
Goldstein said Ting is also beginning a project in Charlottesville, Virginia, where it will both lay the fiber cable and provide the service.
Is becoming increasingly popular for towns to stop waiting for an Internet service provider to expand fiber technology to them and move ahead with building and maintaining their own infrastructure, according to Goldstein.
"Westminster is still ahead of most towns," Goldstein said. There are businesses in Westminster which understand the need for a fiber network capable of speeds 400 times faster than what dial-up or DSL service can provide.
Wack said he hopes the network will bring economic development to Westminster by showing high-tech companies the city is thinking ahead.
One of the benefits of fiber optic technology its durability, according to Wack. The cables require significantly less upkeep than copper wires in use in many areas now and most of the technological advances will occur in the electronics connected to the cables.
Residential customers can make use of the high speeds, but first must learn to think bigger than they have in the past when they were limited by their Internet service providers, Goldstein said.
"It's helping people understand how they can use the Internet in ways they don't even bother to [try] because the speed is not there," he said. "We adjust to what our experience is."
Goldstein said Ting's business model can be simplified to finding an area where customers are dissatisfied with their service provider and providing excellent service.
Goldstein said of his company earned the highest ever rating for a mobile service provider in a 2015 Consumer Reports survey.
Customer service representatives are hired carefully and trained well, Goldstein said, and do not operate from a tight script. They are told to help the customer however they can.
Goldstein said Ting will also strive to provide competitive pricing once Internet service becomes available, but the pricing structure has not been finalized.
The pilot phase of the project includes two business parks adjacent to the Carroll County Regional Airport as well as a residential community of the west side of town. The project broke ground in October and Wack said the network could be up and running, at least in part, as early as March or April.
The next step to bringing the fiber network to the entire city is to begin discussions with engineering company CTC Technology & Energy about the cost to outfit the remainder of Westminster, Wack said.
The project will proceed in phases, but Wack said the council is not sure how the geographic areas will be divided yet. The project is expected to take a total of three to five years to complete.
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