iFiber Service at City Hall, Explores Mediacom Legal Options
Ny MICHAEL MILLER | For The Prairie Advocate News
SAVANNA – The Savanna City Council moved forward on two fronts on Tuesday, February 26th; approving intent to use iFiber at 333 Chicago Avenue and also to allow the company to use the Fire Station as a ‘hub’ for its service, with the City’s equipment being used in furtherance of this purpose.
The meeting was attended by Council members Bill Robinson, Merle Long, Peg Haffey, Jeff Griswold, Tony McCombie, Carol Fosdick and Lois Hunsaker, with Bill Scott absent. Mayor Larry Stebbins, City Clerk Paul Hartman, City Attorney Phil Jensen, and department heads Michael Moon, Sheryl Sipe, Shawn Picolotti and John Lindeman were also present.
In order to secure a grant for their equipment, the iFiber service needed the Council to vote “yay” or “nay” to the notion of using iFiber at 333 Chicago Avenue (City Hall) for the City’s internet and other computer services. Griswold repeated his comments from the last meeting, saying that before moving forward with iFiber the City was still awaiting information regarding specification requirements from iFiber to use City property to house and operate their equipment (a separate but somewhat related issue), and that perhaps a “yay” or “nay” was premature with no contract in place. He added that there had been the potential for a reduced rate but if that could not be secured, perhaps the rental of City property should be a bit more. Stebbins replied that these were in essence, separate matters and that iFiber needed a firm ‘yes’ or ‘no’ at this point in order to move ahead, or not, presumably.
Griswold also advised that previous discussion had intended that the City would not be required to cover any potential cost overruns, but Jensen and Robinson referred to iFiber representative’s comments that fully $85,000.00 was available to iFiber in grant funding for installation of the City’s equipment for the project and that so far, the costs of installation including air conditioning and a control and transfer switch only amounted to around $25,000.00.
After lengthy discussion, Robinson made a motion to approve the agreement with iFiber regarding equipment and installation of that equipment at the Fire Station to create a hub for iFiber, and (at Jensen’s suggestion) at a maximum of $85,000.00 cost, with a maintenance agreement included.
Daniel Payette, Outreach Coordinator for Blackhawk Hills Regional Council, representing iFiber, noted that at the current time his impression was that iFiber was merely asking for approval of an intent to sign an agreement, so that if modifications were needed, they could be made down the line as they arose.
Griswold asked for Jensen’s opinion of the agreement wording, and the attorney responded that he was comfortable that it addressed all of the City’s concerns. Long wondered if it wouldn’t be better to allow the City the ability to negotiate the monthly fee for the service at 333 Chicago Avenue.
Jensen at last voiced his overall feelings on this matter by asking the Council assembled, point blank, “Has there been a better economic development proposal put before this Council in the last twelve months?”
Griswold answered “no,” but he recalled the notion of using igloos at the Savanna Army Depot for data storage, “and that never flew.”
Robinson said that the difference here was that there was no money out of the City’s pocket. Griswold didn’t like the fact that some of the details noted and urged by the Contracts and Lease Committee were being “glossed over,” and Robinson assured him that all that was required now was the approval of an “intent” to sign.
The motion was unanimously approved.
On the matter of iFiber providing service to City Hall, Robinson made a motion to approve this proposal, with a contract for five years, at a rate of $100.00 a month, which Payette reminded the Council was a maintenance cost, and any services beyond this would be a separate amount. The Council fully approved this motion, with Stebbins adding that the contract would be available for further discussion at the next meeting; this was just a motion to state intent to sign.
Jensen once again addressed this ongoing thorn, briefly reviewing the history of the City’s franchise agreement with the company. This was highlighted by the development of an Illinois law that “preempted the degree of control that municipalities had historically had,” which meant that companies no longer had to negotiate one on one with municipalities. The company spoke of putting together an agreement that would allow Savanna to “have a voice in its cable needs.”
Long periods of no real response from the company ensued, according to Jensen, and finally in December of 2011 the company sent out a revised agreement, in which Jensen said discovered that the “bait and switch,” meaning that the company had not gone with the original franchise agreement’s definition of “gross revenues” meaning monthly cable revenues received by the grantee by the operation of the cable system.
The City had been operating under this definition of the term from 1994 onward. However, Mediacom’s definition was that “gross revenues” was defined as basic cable only, leaving out basic cable plus, premium, etc.
The attorney deemed this a “sleight of hand” and sent them a revised proposal with the correct definition of ‘gross revenue’ and heard back that Mediacom had reduced the 5 percent fee based on a new definition of the term. Jensen therefore came before the council this night to ask permission to send them correspondence advising them that they had failed to pay the franchise fee. If they fail to respond after 30 days, a public hearing needs to be scheduled, Jensen reported, which would be a fact finding measure. If it’s found that Mediacom is in violation, then the City can file suit against them.
The council voted unanimously to allow Jensen to pursue this matter.
Council fully approved the City’s use agreement with the Savanna Train Car Museum for use of city property, for five years.
McCombie’s request that the April 9th meeting, which falls on Election Night, be postponed until a later date due to the conflict was addressed. Sipe confirmed that it should not present a scheduling conflict for City Hall. April 10th was mentioned as the substitute date. This matter will be brought before the Council next time as an agenda item to vote upon.
Ms. McCombie also clarified, pursuant to calls by concerned citizens, that there are no plans to tear down the Lincoln School, and that plans for the property are future development and that it is not on any sort of demolition list.