I3 Broadband Proposal Brings Questions, Debate To Jacksonville City Council

By Benjamin Cox on July 14, 2020 at 4:45pm

The Jacksonville City Council had an hour and a half debate on whether I3 should be the company that brings broadband infrastructure to the door of every home in the city during the City Council meeting Monday night. Aldermen were asked to waive bids and accept a Memorandum of Understanding with I3 to install fiber Internet infrastructure and provide lifetime service to the municipal government. I3 would then be an option for Jacksonville’s citizen’s to purchase both Internet and television service at what I3 claims would be a more competitive price than is currently offered.

A handbill of I3’s residential service pricing.

I3 has asked for a $2.5 million investment from the city so they could bring the option to every home in Jacksonville’s city limits. Ward 3 Alderman Brandon Adams asked that the item be removed from the consent agenda for further discussion during the meeting, asking for other options be presented. Adams cited a 2014 feasibility study done for the city by engineers (one of the engineers from the study is currently Dan Kennedy, I3’s President & COO) displaying different broadband models that the city could pursue. Adams said that the city should look for more affordable options and requested possibly opening the broadband infrastructure project be opened up for bids.

Ward 1 Alderman Jeff Hopkins proposed that the city bring in a 3rd party consultant to give everyone a better idea of what citywide broadband would look like and to give an opinion on the I3 Memorandum of Understanding: “No one on this council is a [broadband] expert. We are all reading the same documents. We are going over the same information, and we are trying to make a decision. I look at other projects that the city does, and we usually bring in some type of an expert, an engineering company – someone to look at the project, assess the situation, and tell us what it’s going to cost or what we need to do that would be in our best interest. I’ve heard from some of the other aldermen, that [an outside consultant] is what they would like to have to better explain this. That was my suggestion. Let’s bring in somebody that knows more than we do so that we can listen to them, and they can tell us if we are going in the right direction, or if we need to hold back, or what we need to look for. Then, it would give us an idea of the direction that we need to go.”

Mayor Andy Ezard says that the whole council needs to be in attendance to make the decision. Aldermen Steve Warmowski and Mike Wankel weren’t in physical attendance at the meeting. Warmowski did provide input via teleconference. Ezard says that the decision needs to be made for all of Jacksonville: “I feel that if Jacksonville is going to move forward, we need fiber to the door and we need it for all of Jacksonville. We just can’t have [service] in certain areas while other areas wouldn’t be served. That’s just important to me that everybody gets the fair shake – whether you live on Mound Avenue or on Huber Street or on North Clay, you should have the same ability to have fiber Internet if you choose. I know Mediacom has been in town for a long time, and they have been a very good company for the city for many years. I feel that competition is healthy. Whoever it is that gets this project, we really need to take a hard look and we need to move forward.”

City Attorney Dan Beard told the council last night that 7 votes will be needed to approve the MOU or to abandon I3’s proposal, whether all of the council members are present for the vote or not. Ezard says the work has to get done so that the City of Jacksonville can move into the future: “I think whoever gets awarded the project, it needs to get done. If we are not going to be stagnant and be able to attract business, I think now is the time to move and I feel the aldermen feel the same way. All of us are going to learn a little bit more about this together, and then proceed. Hopefully our citizens and our region will be happy about it.”

The City Council will announce a special Committee of the Whole session for the citywide broadband options in the coming week.