Savannah city leaders are moving forward with a plan that could create a municipal broadband network in the coastal Georgia city.
What’s curious about the move is it comes on the heels of an announcement by Comcast that it will bring a super-high-speed network to Savannah beginning later this year.
The company’s Comcast Business division revealed in March that it will begin construction of a fiber-optic network in the third quarter of the year to bring download speeds of up to 10 gigabits per second to businesses, colleges and government agencies.
“This investment puts Savannah squarely on the map as a city that can offer businesses the best technology available today,” said Alex Horwitz, vice president of public relations for Comcast South. “We are finding that companies looking to expand or relocate are increasingly making technology infrastructure a chief consideration.”
But Savannah leaders have contracted with Magellan, a broadband planning and consulting firm, to examine the possibility of building its own fiber-optic network to serve many of the same types of facilities. A press release from Magellan says the company will study expansion “to improve broadband for municipal operations, businesses, education, healthcare, community anchors, public safety and residents.”
Magellan, which has helped plan more than 200 fiber-optic networks across the U.S., said it will create a “state of broadband” report for the city and work with city leaders to “examine the financial feasibility of creating an enhanced and more extensive broadband network for the city of Savannah.”
Watchdog attempted to ascertain how much the city is paying in consulting fees to Magellan, but the Savannah city manager’s office didn’t return a call with that information.
Meanwhile, Savannah city leaders showed little interest last year in a plan by Chris Miller, founder of Illuminomics, a technology and economic strategy company, to build a high-speed network created by a cooperative of public and private dues-paying members to serve the Broughton Street area.
Miller asked the council for seed money in the $82,000-to-$165,000 range to get the project off the ground. He said the project would enhance economic growth and internet access for schools.
In 2012, the Savannah City Council held a public hearing about Comcast after many residents complained about the quality of service.
David Williams, president of the Taxpayers Protection Alliance, told Watchdog.org that “if they really think they’re going to get better service from the government, they’re crazy.”
He said he understands that city leaders are frustrated, but that should spur a more open, honest conversation with local telecommunications providers, not the development of a plan to build a government network with tax dollars.
“You’re asking all the taxpayers to pay for a service that only a small percentage of them will use,” Williams said.
Comcast offers a similar ultra-high-speed service in Atlanta. Horwitz said Savannah was chosen as the second market for the service in Georgia because of its strong business climate and economic growth.
“Bringing some of the nation’s fastest speeds to Savannah reinforces this city as a destination of choice for businesses looking for the most advanced technology available,” he said.
AT&T, which also offers internet in Savannah, is now quickly expanding its GigaPower gigabit-capable service across the country, although it hasn’t included Savannah in those plans — yet.
Savannah Mayor Eddie DeLoach, who took office this year, told local TV station WTOC the city needs to plan and design a system now to compete economically over “the next 15 years.”
DeLoach didn’t return a call from Watchdog.
“We got to have fiber optic if we are going to have anyone from the film industry or [Savannah College of Art and Design] or these engineering places, we got to have high-speed internet. We got to have the broadband,” he told WTOC.
That sentiment makes Williams chuckle.
“I like how they talk about the film industry. We need more taxpayer money so we can give more taxpayer money to Hollywood,” he said. “It’s a city that’s addicted to subsidies.”