Broadband expert forced to postpone Champaign trip for third time

CHAMPAIGN – Apparently the third time was not the charm.

City council members Tuesday will for a third time defer a discussion of the $31 million Big Broadband proposal, after Maryland consultant Doug Dawson informed city officials on Monday that he was still sick and could not make the trip to Champaign.

The city would have paid Dawson between $3,000 and $3,200 for his appearance at the meeting, Information Technologies Director Fred Halenar said. Now it looks like that trip – and the payment – will not happen until March, City Manager Steve Carter said.

Council members await his presence to answer their questions surrounding the high-speed Internet proposal before they vote on whether they would be willing to accept federal grant money to build the network.

Dawson was paid $15,000 for a report he authored critiquing the proposed network that would connect 137 community-oriented buildings and a percentage of low-income homes.

That contract was split between the cities of Champaign and Urbana, with each municipality contributing $7,500 to Dawson.

The three canceled trips have not added any cost for the city, Halenar said.

City officials on Monday were considering alternatives – possibly holding the discussion via telephone – but City Manager Steve Carter said rescheduling the meeting seemed the most reasonable option.

"That seems to be what council pretty much wants to do," Carter said.

The city council is still waiting for an opportunity to vote on whether the city would accept federal funds to build the high-speed Internet network.

"Some people still haven't made up their mind," Carter said.

The first meeting with Dawson was scheduled for January, when it appeared deadlines for grant disbursement were more pressing. But after several weeks without word from the federal government, Carter said it appears the issue is less immediate.

Local broadband officials are already working on a second round of grant applications while they still wait to hear the fate of the first.

Still, Carter said it would be nice to have answers.

"The process overall has been kind of frustrating," Carter said. "People have invested a lot of time and effort into it, and deadlines have come and gone."

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