The piggy bank full of hundred-dollar bills that City Manager David Corliss, the city staff and commissioners are eyeballing from a swap of street and highway maintenance responsibilities should not overshadow one of the projects involved.
It’s the proposal to invest in additional fiber-optic cable capacity to serve the city, county, school district, Kansas University and Haskell Indian Nations University. It also carries the potential to allow businesses to lease some of the perceived excess capacity within the ring of fiber. Although it’s a stretch, making the city competitive with the Google Fiber project in Wyandotte County, has been mentioned.
When the project was discussed at a commission meeting in early June, there seemed to be little enthusiasm for spending the amount ($320,000 to $640,000) it would take for the work.
Now that the piggy bank has been identified, funds for the effort (along with the Santa Fe depot restoration, traffic signals, etc.) seem to be drawing elevated interest.
There are two main components to this. One is completion, through work along Sixth Street between Iowa and Wakarusa, of a gap in the city’s existing fiber ring. Conduit and 288 strands of fiber would be installed. Other funds would be sought to enhance the project.
The second phase would involve a fiber ring for the Farmland site, the East Hills Business Park and other community facilities on the eastern part of the city.
There’s little doubt that in today’s environment, broadband capacity is essential and that high capacity and speed are factors that many businesses expect and scrutinize carefully. Obviously, it makes just as much sense for the city and other institutions to evaluate how to provide and enhance this component of modern infrastructure as it does for them to provide streets, sewers and other more traditional types of infrastructure.
To date, no institutional partnerships have materialized to help share the cost of the proposal. However, the most recent city report suggests that “a public/private partnership” be explored for part of the fiber installation. This is where the situation begins to get murky. Transparency is paramount, especially for a commission that has wandered into the Rock Chalk Park swamp.
The need, and value, of more “public/private partnerships” to provide roads, sewers, sidewalks and other infrastructure, especially fiber-optic cable, certainly are dubious. Furthermore, avoiding conflicts of interest and entangled personal relationships that are likely to be involved, is essential. The ends and the means need to be clearly and carefully aligned.
Having found a piggy bank is not a reason to jump recklessly into a project that deserves the utmost in above-board discussion and prioritization.