Councils to review transition plan

Councils to review transition plan

Each city to look over revised proposal, but in separate meetings

CHAMPAIGN — City officials say a new agreement to spin off Urbana-Champaign Big Broadband as a private nonprofit includes more rules for transparency and stronger policies on minority contracting after the two city councils critiqued the plan in a joint session last week.

With the new agreement in front of them, the two city councils are set to meet this week — separately this time — to discuss and possibly take action on the proposal that would send the government-run Internet service provider on a path toward privatization.

The Urbana City Council is scheduled to meet at 7 p.m. tonight in the Urbana City Building, 400 S. Vine St.

The Champaign City Council is scheduled to meet at 7 p.m. Tuesday in the Champaign City Building, 102 N. Neil St.

Until now, the $30 million UC2B project has received most of its funding from the federal government. The cities and the University of Illinois received a federal grant in 2010 that paid for Big Broadband's construction in underserved neighborhoods to bolster Internet access in low-income areas.

That grant expires Sept. 30, and any expenses the network incurs after that will be on the shoulders of the local governments if it is still in their control. City officials hope to have the network spun off into a private nonprofit by that time, but they expect it will still need some help from the cities for the first six months or so to get off the ground.

After that, they expect the network to run like a business — with revenues covering all its expenses and without public subsidy.

Some Urbana City Council members last week were concerned by what they thought was an incredibly condensed timeline for the transformation of UC2B into a private nonprofit.

City officials have been planning to spin it off for some time, but the city councils did not meet to discuss the specifics until last week.

In a memo to the Urbana city council, administrators explain the urgency. They say the federal agency administering the grant did not contact the local governments about the deadline until July 22. The deadline to submit the application to transfer UC2B assets is due Aug. 15.

"Thus, the Founding Entities did not learn of the application submission deadline until July 22nd," the memo said.

Many of the changes the city councils recommended at their joint meeting last week are included in the new proposal they will see this week: It includes a requirement that the nonprofit submit an annual report to the cities and that the network's high, self-imposed standards for procuring minority contractors be maintained.

The new agreement would also keep ownership of UC2B infrastructure — the fiber in the ground — in control of the government consortium that owns it now. The consortium would lease or license that network to the new nonprofit after some officials expressed concern that it would eventually fall into the hands of a for-profit agency.

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pattsi wrote on August 05, 2013 at 2:08 pm

It is too bad that the concept of morphing this project to a coop rather than a not-for-profit got buried in the wave of desires of those at the helm. Having watched the joint meeting now 3 times, many flags of caution are flying in the wind causing a specturlation that the next morphing will be to private within a decade. This will negate the purpose of the milions of federal dollars that helped bring broadband to the community. Further, I encourage those who will be voting on this new entity to include term limits for the board members in the by-laws.

cretis16 wrote on August 05, 2013 at 5:08 pm

I too watched the wheels of progress turn. Why would a possibly private entity deem that minorities would be guaranteed a portion of the business. These sorts of "must hire" boat anchor conditions severely limit any participation by private business. No ethnic or racial group should be allowed to move to the head of the line. Very short-sighted.