A Welcome Move: State’s Telecom Agreement With Agile Networks Denied

The state’s controversial proposed lease of its cell phone towers, fiber and public rights of way to Ohio-based Agile Networks officially won’t happen.

Governor Eric Holcomb put an end to it in an announcement Thursday. The Indiana Chamber applauds his decision and had been advocating for such a resolution.

Funds from the proposed $50 million lease were earmarked for bicentennial construction projects, with the Agile agreement promoted as a way to bring greater connectivity to rural areas.

Beginning last September, after learning in more detail about the agreement, the Chamber voiced significant concerns and objections on behalf of the state’s telecommunications industry.

Chamber President and CEO Kevin Brinegar had numerous discussions with the Indiana Finance Authority and State Budget Committee members – the groups needing to approve the deal. The Chamber made a clear request that the agreement not proceed.

Therefore, we are very pleased that Gov. Eric Holcomb shared our belief that this deal was bad for Indiana.

In his statement, the Governor said: “I have asked the Office of Management and Budget to assess how best to move forward and to develop alternatives we might pursue. Enhancing broadband availability in rural parts of our state will be an important part of my consideration.”

The Chamber believes that’s the correct approach.

Our board-approved position supports free market competition in the delivery of advanced telecommunications services. Yet this deal went too far and essentially suppressed this important principle. Not to mention, good Hoosier companies inexplicably were not even given equal opportunity to bid for the project.

Additionally, all industry players and competing technologies should be on a level playing field. However, this proposed deal would have only served to pit the state against private providers.

Getting better broadband access to rural areas of the state should be a priority. That was unlikely to happen with the now-defunct deal, which would have done nothing to drive Agile Networks to serve our rural areas. The company’s publicized plans were to build in the state’s largest cities – Evansville, Fort Wayne and Indianapolis – where cable and broadband services and competitive choices already exist.

Looking ahead, the Chamber pledges to work with state government in any way it can to advance the effort to truly bring connectivity to rural parts of the state. These areas must be brought up to date technologically to help reverse their downward population and economic trends.

Tennessee Battles for Top Billing in Internet Speeds

Hearing a dial-up computer tone today is a little like listening to the crackling sound of a phonograph from the early 20th century. It’s out of place and just a little creepy.

In Indiana, we’ve come a long way from the days of waiting for our computers to connect to the Internet. Some of the most rural areas now have access to broadband capabilities and advanced mobile services.

Much of that is due to the Telecom and Video Reform Act (HEA 1279) that the Indiana General Assembly passed and Gov. Mitch Daniels signed in 2006. The act deregulated the telecommunications industry and put Indiana on the map as a leader in expanding broadband services. The capabilities have also attracted investments from a number of entities.

Now, it looks like another quasi-Midwestern state is gaining attention in the world of broadband. Chattanooga’s city-owned electrical utility has started offering an Internet service that is among the fastest in the world.

The Chattanooga Electric Power Board’s new Fiber Optics network will provide a 1 gigabit-per-second Internet service. The utility said the service is more than 200 times faster than the average national download speed today.

At a cost of $350 a month, it’s also much more expensive than the typical residential plan. Harold DePriest, the Chattanooga Electric Power Board’s president and CEO, said residential customers don’t really need that fast a service, but businesses might.

He said the high-speed service won’t be costly for EPB to operate, yet it should put the Chattanooga community at the forefront of attracting businesses – possibly Internet providers – that can benefit from having it.

“Chattanooga represents the next frontier in communications technology, with limitless potential for new applications for education, entertainment, health care, industrial development, and more,” DePriest said in a statement.

The article goes on to quote Chattanooga Mayor Ron Littlefield saying the announcement has put the city “on the short list of progressive communities in the world.” A New York Times article says that only Hong Kong and a few other cities in the world offer such fast services and that Chattanooga will be the first in the United States to do so.

Fast, but not cheap. Would you pay $350 a month for this kind of capability?