Urbana to apply for new fiber optic broadband project

The Urbana City Council announced at its Monday night meeting that the city will be applying for the Google Fiber broadband project.

Google Fiber is a pilot program launched by Google that will test high-speed Internet service in communities.

Along with the new Google Fiber plan, the city council also wants to decide next Monday whether to accept federal grant money for a separate broadband connectivity plan, said Mike Monson, Urbana’s chief of staff.

The federally-funded broadband project would connect critical institutions, as well as 4,600 homes in lower-income neighborhoods, to a higher-speed Internet service if all of the homes are willing to utilize the service.

Even if the city council does not accept the federal grant money, Google could potentially connect the Champaign-Urbana community to a high-speed fiber optic service without any necessary funds coming from the city’s end.

Google is accepting applications for its program through March 26.

“Getting all the information that Google wants will be time-consuming,” said Mike Smeltzer, director of networking at CITES at the University. “We just need to be ourselves. This is a positive community.”

Smeltzer said that Google, which announced its plan in mid-February, is looking for economically and culturally diverse communities.

Monson said the separate broadband project and the federal grant proposal that would fund that program could pose some consequences for Urbana.

“We are just trying to get everyone on speed. There are some risks (to the federal grant proposal),” Monson said. “The thing that concerns the city the most is that we’re serving 11 census blocks, 4,600 residences, 2,500 will probably be hooked up – the concerns of whether that will lose money.”

Also of concern is that the members of the Urbana City Council have not yet received the grant contracts for the federal proposal. Urbana has 30 days to decide whether to accept the grant, but the clock started ticking March 2.

Champaign is expected to decide tonight on whether or not to accept the grant, Monson said.

The special meeting on Monday night will decide whether or not the city of Urbana will accept the grant. Monson said that the intention of the special meeting on Monday will be to hold the vote.

Diane Marlin, Ward 7, voiced her concern about not yet seeing the contract since the city council wants to decide whether to accept it next Monday.

“We don’t sign the $22.5 million (grant) without reading it,” she said. “We need to read it at the city level. Can we start the clock once we get the contract?”

The time frame for the grant is March 2 – April 1.

The grant money would be distributed between Urbana, Champaign and the University. Urbana would receive $350,000 from the grant and would be expected to contribute $555,000 over the next three fiscal years, according to the plan’s overview.