Monticello committee pressing to get fiber optic network running

MONTICELLO — The 72 strands of razor-thin, blazing-fast fiber optic data wire are in the ground and ready to be turned on, meaning the opportunity for higher Internet speeds than ever before in Monticello.

A joint committee making day-to-day decisions on the local network is unsure who will maintain it, but still wants to get the fiber activated — or "lit" — while figuring out the details.

Monticello School Superintendent Vic Zimmerman was charged with obtaining a cost from Metro Communications on firing up the local system. Hopes are that Metro — which also ran its own fiber through Monticello last year in addition to the Monticello network — could be amenable to a short-term contract while the joint fiber optic committee determines the system's future.

"I like the idea of wrapping up payment and getting it lit, and taking our time figuring out" whether to farm out maintenance or even sell the system, said Allerton Public Library Board representative Luke Feeney.

He added that paying for the system is needed before any other decisions can be made, saying "we're talking about leasing or selling off something we don't actually own yet."

A final cost for the fiber system install is still to be determined. Four governmental entities — the library, school, City of Monticello and government of Piatt County — originally agreed to split the initial $240,000 estimate. Joint Committee Chair Randy Keith said that has risen to about $280,000 as more fiber was added to the route, and wants a final figure from the contractor before asking the four entities to amend the original agreement to reflect the new cost.

Although no one is using the local fiber system yet, the school district is using the technology by temporarily purchasing bandwidth from the Metro system while waiting for Monticello's to get online. If the Monticello system is activated soon, school officials hope to switch to it over during spring break March 24-28.

There has also been interest from at least one unnamed company in purchasing the local system, but committee members admitted they are not sure of the future worth of the new, cutting-edge technology.

A preliminary meeting with the potential buyer showed the company was not interested in providing the faster fiber optic speeds to residential customers, which did not sit well with Monticello City Superintendent Floyd Allsop.

"I just want assurances that they would work something out with somebody on residential so that we're meeting our goals," said Allsop. "And you would think they would want to do that, but we don't know they want to do that."

Selling the system would relieve local entities from the cost of maintaining the fiber, but Keith did not think it made sense to do it this soon.

"Once we sell it, we've got no say over it, where if we hire an outside company to maintain it, we've still got a say," said Keith.

The school system will likely by the first to hop on the fiber network for two reasons: It will likely be the largest user, and the district also has technology staff to help work any bugs out of the system as well as monitor it.

If the recommendation was made to sell the system, approval would be needed from all four entities.

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