Guest commentary: UC2B system an asset to Champaign-Urbana
By MIKE HOSIER
The May 30 News-Gazette editorial voiced concerns about the UC2B system, its construction, its management and whether it was a good decision for the community to get involved. There have been issues with UC2B which were highlighted in the editorial and also in Patrick Wade's May 26 article. Unfortunately, The News-Gazette's editors have chosen to focus only on the negative aspects of a largely successful project. I don't expect The News-Gazette to be a cheerleader for UC2B, but by not including anything positive, The News-Gazette's editors have misled the community they serve.
Yes, like many large projects, there have been frustrating problems, many of them stemming from the poor performance of subcontracted vendors who failed to perform to construction standards, but The News-Gazette only focused on the Power Up Electrical contract that was not extended. However, Power Up Electrical was only hired to connect the residences, businesses and Anchor Institutions to a fiber system that was completed by other contractors who constructed over 140 miles of backbone fiber throughout Champaign, Urbana and Savoy. That construction was completed with relatively few setbacks by two prime contractors, Western Utility and John Burns, who did quality work and built a fiber network to serve our community for decades to come.
Some Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP) projects have had problems, but the professionals who monitor UC2B's progress and finances say the UC2B project is not one of them. To characterize UC2B as "a mess" and "an embarrassment" is neither fair nor true. Last September, the National Association of Telecommunications Officers and Advisors (NATOA) honored UC2B as the National Community Broadband Project of the year after reviewing dozens of other similar projects.
Both the May 26 article and the May 30 editorial completely overlooked the Community Anchor Institutions that already have benefited and will benefit from UC2B in the near future. The residential component of UC2B that was featured by The News-Gazette is an important component, but there is more to UC2B than its residential subscribers.
When work is completed later this year Community Anchor Institutions will have a UC2B network providing them with better (faster and more reliable) Internet connectivity at lower costs. Also worth noting is that the 231 Community Anchor Institutions connected by the end of the grant will exceed the original projection of 143 in the original application.
There are many UC2B success stories. One example is Champaign Unit 4 Schools, formerly paying AT&T almost $75,000 per month for 100 Mbps connectivity. Now, connected to the CTC 1 Gbps network, the Unit 4 School District has better connectivity and will save close to $500,000 per year because of the UC2B project.
Another, the City of Champaign, was contemplating building its own fiber network because the connectivity they needed was cost-prohibitive from AT&T. If the City had built its own fiber network, it would have cost between $3 and $4 million, and could have taken up to 3 years to complete. Champaign's local match to the UC2B project was less than $500,000 and its fiber network will be operational later this summer.
UC2B has already benefited the community by bringing alternate Internet service providers to the Champaign-Urbana market. Before UC2B, the options in our market were limited to Comcast, AT&T and Windstream (Paetec). UC2B will result in lower bandwidth rates which will be passed on to businesses and consumers in the UC2B service area. For the first time in many years, to try and stay competitive Comcast and AT&T did not raise their Internet connectivity rates and Comcast actually increased the bandwidth in its pricing tiers at no additional cost.
In focusing on one small part of the overall UC2B project, The News- Gazette neglected to get all the facts and missed an opportunity to communicate the overall positive impact of UC2B on the community. UC2B provides Champaign-Urbana a tremendous foundation for connectivity and communication that will stimulate growth and be an asset to this community for a long time. We have much to be proud of already with this project and it has not yet realized its full potential. In addition to bringing Internet service to underserved areas of the community, UC2B will offer economic development opportunities that will make C-U more attractive to businesses that consider locating in this area.
It is worth nothing that The News-Gazette and WDWS use UC2B fiber connected to the CTC network and have dropped their Comcast Internet connections. Apparently this "big boondoggle" identified by The News-Gazette still is able to meet their needs.
Mike Hosier is the owner of Champaign Telephone Company (CTC) and Big Broadband Services (BBS), the lone private investor in UC2B.