HUDSON — A committee’s examination of high-speed internet service to residents is slowing down so the body can study the issue more deeply.
The committee reviewing the possibility of community-wide broadband service wants to conduct a community survey and its members wish to attend a regional conference in the fall to acquire more information before making recommendations to city council.
Council in June formed the committee to provide advice on offering fiber optic service to city homes. Council had initially eyed placing a 2.7-mill, 10-year property tax issue on the November ballot that, if passed, would have helped pay for the broadband infrastructure, but postponed that decision to form a committee to assess the different options and provide advice.
In a letter dated Aug. 2, Christina Tait, who is chairing the Ad Hoc Committee for Community-Wide Fiber, requested council’s authorization to conduct a new survey measuring the need for, and interest in, expanding the city’s Velocity Broadband system to residents. Tait also requested funding and authorization for committee members to attend Great Lakes Connect, a regional public broadband development conference in Fairlawn from Sept. 24-27.
Council President Bill Wooldredge (At Large) said a majority of council supported allowing the committee to move ahead with the initiatives.
"I asked the city manager to go ahead and work with them to facilitate [the committee’s requests]," Wooldredge said.
The committee has up to $10,000 to spend on the survey and attending the conference.
The committee will contact independent public policy survey groups at universities in Cleveland and Akron to gather information on costs and the organizations’ qualifications. Following this process, the committee will submit another request to council recommending a group to conduct the survey and ask the city to enter into a service agreement with the group.
"The committee would work with the survey group to develop questions that we believe will be useful in determining residents’ needs and desires for home broadband services," Tait said.
Jody Roberts, the city’s communications manager, said the committee will take its proposal back to council for discussion, however legislators will not have to approve legislation if the expense remains under $25,000.
"The city manager has the authority to approve contracts under $25,000 without council’s vote," said Roberts. "We anticipate the cost being below this threshold."
Tait said the committee would to like have its members, as well as city council members, attend the conference in Fairlawn in September.
Due to the time involved with conducting the survey, and because the conference is in late September, Tait said the committee will not be able to meet the Oct. 2 reporting deadline that was originally stipulated by council.
"We believe that the magnitude and complexity of this project dictate a more deliberate approach, with sufficient time allowed to gather and consider the variety of information needed to enable the committee to make the most informed and hopefully useful recommendations that it can on behalf of the Hudson community," Tait said.
Earlier survey ‘not helpful’
In the letter to council, Tait said the committee reached "the unanimous conclusion" that a market research phone survey performed by Uptown Services LLC in April was "not helpful to us as a resource for gauging the level of need for or interest in expanding the public broadband system to residents in Hudson."
Tait said the committee was concerned about the "leading nature" of many of the questions, the fact that the survey did not address "quantifiable concerns" on existing internet service and relied on respondents’ "opinions or feelings versus concrete experience."
According to Tait, the committee said its early research found many taxpayer-funded broadband projects in the country failed due to "dependence upon apparently enthusiastic resident interest, as reflected in community surveys such as the Uptown survey, which later did not translate into actual participation in the publicly funded broadband networks."
The committee’s next meeting is Aug. 15 at 7 p.m. in the Hudson Conference Room of the Municipal Service Center, 115 Executive Parkway, Suite 400. The meeting is open to the public.
Reporter Phil Keren can be reached at 330-541-9421, firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter at @keren_phil.