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Stockbridge approves IT partnership

 

By Monroe Roark
Times Correspondent 

  In a move that is virtually guaranteed to have a huge impact on all aspects of life in Stockbridge, the City Council voted Monday night to enter into a partnership with an information technology (IT) company that is expected to result in unprecedented high-speed Internet access for the city’s schools, businesses and homes.

Mayor Mark Alarcon and Stockbridge City Council members Harold L. Cochran and Robin Buschman discuss a $15 million IT initiative.                                                        Special photo

  Community Broadband, LLC of Savannah will invest $15 million in the project, while the city’s capital investment will be zero, Mayor Mark Alarcon said shortly before the 5-0 vote to approve the agreement. Stockbridge will grant nonexclusive right-of-way for the company to build and maintain the fiber-optic broadband system.

  Work on the project is scheduled to start immediately, with the “go live” date set for September 2014, according to City Manager David Milliron’s presentation to the council.

 The proposed network stretches 206 miles, which would impact more than 5,300 businesses, along with several public schools in the city’s coverage area, giving them Internet access at speeds of up to one gigabit per second – up to 100 times faster than what is available now, Alarcon said.

 The network will give Stockbridge the largest IT capacity in Georgia south of I-20, with the ability to tap into an Atlanta hub that is the largest network on the Eastern Seaboard, according to the mayor.

  In addition to the $15 million capital investment, Community Broadband has committed to moving its Atlanta headquarters to Stockbridge within 24 months and remaining there through the life of the agreement. The company will rent space in the Merle Manders Conference Center until a permanent location (about 5,000 square feet) is finalized. The project is expected to create 38 new jobs.

  Alarcon touted the impact this project would have on schools within Stockbridge, noting that the school system’s current online network averages 5 Mbps, which cannot support the needs of the students and teachers as it should.

  School system officials are very excited about the project, the mayor added, citing a meeting earlier Monday with Board of Education member Erik Charles, whose district includes most of the city. Charles was “grinning like a Cheshire cat” after he heard the report from the city, Alarcon said.

Officials from Piedmont Henry Hospital have also been informed and are very pleased at the possibility of the plan moving forward, according to the mayor.

  On the economic development side, Alarcon noted what he referred to as the “80-20 rule,” saying that if a municipality meets 80 percent of a company’s criteria for possible relocation, the decision comes down to three areas: water, power and IT availability.

  “We have great water service through the Henry County Water Authority, while Georgia Power and our EMCs provide excellent service in the area of electrical power,” said Alarcon. “This network will take care of the IT side.”

Milliron’s presentation stressed the positive results that would be seen across the city’s landscape – from the improved access for students to the advantages for local businesses and the higher property values for homes with access to the network.

“This will improve quality of life all around,” said Milliron.

  Allen Davis, the founder of Community Broadband, said his company sought out Stockbridge for this project. The firm has a long list of clients over the past three decades and has supported the capitalization and development of $1 billion in new start-up ventures during that time, as noted by Milliron during his presentation. There was no opposition voiced from any council members, although Alphonso Thomas made some rather pointed comments about the process that led to the vote.

  Thomas said first that he would be voting in favor of the proposal, but he noted that he received the information about it just before the meeting. He noted that while Alarcon emphasized the proposed investment to be made by Community Broadband, he had not addressed the investment required by the city. Alarcon was ready to respond to that question.

  “The city will come out of pocket with nothing,” he said. “Not one dime.”

  Thomas acknowledged that answer, but he repeated his assertion that the information about the proposal was presented much later than it should have been.

  “If we’re going to choose not to vote on last-minute issues, we should do that every time,” said Thomas, who has been the lone dissenting vote on a number of issues before the council since the ouster of former mayor Lee Stuart. “We need to be consistent.”

  Alarcon declined to comment on that point, but chose to call for the vote, which was unanimous.

 

 

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