Getting a final approval on Tuesday was a deal between Bloomington and Paris-based Meridiam, to build a fiber-to-the-home open-access network offering symmetric 1-Gigabit service to at least 85 percent of the city.
Under the master development agreement, which has now been signed, Meridiam would also offer symmetric 250-Megabit service to low-income residents at zero net cost.
Green-lighted on Tuesday by Bloomington’s redevelopment commission (RDC) was an expenditure agreement that reimburses to Meridiam, over a 20-year period, 95 percent of the roughly $10.9 million in personal property taxes on conduit and fiber, which Meridiam will pay during that time. The legal tool that is to be used is a tax increment finance (TIF) area.
Also approved on Tuesday, by Bloomington’s board of public works, was a master easement agreement that is supposed to make more expedient Meridiam’s access to Bloomington’s public right-of-way for conduit installation. Hoosier Networks is a company Meridiam has formed to do business in Indiana, so that’s the entity named in the agreement.
The board of public works also approved the use by Hoosier Networks of the roughly 17 miles of unused conduit, known as the Bloomington Digital Underground, in connection with building and operating its network.
In addition to the tax reimbursement, the RDC confirmed at its Tuesday meeting the declaratory resolution that it had first approved in early June. The resolution declares an economic development area, designating it as a TIF (tax increment finance) area, approves an economic development plan, and finds that the public health and welfare will be benefited by the plan.
While the vote by the RDC on the tax reimbursement was 4–0, the tally was just 3–1 on the confirmation of the declaratory resolution. Dissenting was Randy Cassady.
Cassady told The B Square that he could not vote yes, without knowing the identity of the ISP (internet service provider) that Meridiam has chosen. The as-yet-unnamed ISP will for at least five years have exclusive access to the fiber network that Meridiam is building, which is eventually supposed to become accessible to any ISP. To evaluate whether the arrangement is good for the community, Cassady would need to know which ISP will have initial exclusive access, he told The B Square.
Supplying the minimum three votes out of five that are needed for the RDC to take action on any item were: Deborah Myerson; Deb Hutton; and Cindy Kinnarney. Absent was Sarah Bauerle Danzman, who was appointed to fill the vacancy on the RDC left by David Walter.
The as-yet-unnamed internet service provider (ISP), which will have at least five years of exclusive access to the new network, will add another competitor to Bloomington’s high-speed internet market. Some customers are expected to be up and running on the new network before year’s end, according to Bloomington’s IT director, Rick Dietz.
The agreement between Bloomington and Meridiam has been analyzed by the Indiana Cable & Broadband Association as “unfairly favoring one provider over others,” which ICBA says conflicts with the federal Telecommunications Act of 1996. ICBA’s legal objections have received no mention during deliberations at public meetings by Bloomington public officials.
Current players in Bloomington’s high-speed broadband market include Comcast, Smithville, and AT&T.
On the same Tuesday board of public works agenda as the resolution in support of the Meridiam fiber deal was an item related to a competitor already in the fiber-to-the-home business for the Bloomington area.
The board approved access to parts of Bloomington’s public right-of-way for Lineal Contracting, which will be working to install fiber conduit for AT&T.
The work by Lineal will be done in The Stands neighborhood, as well as in the area around South Rogers Street, South Rockport Road, and West Country Club Drive.
The process used by Lineal to get access to the public right-of-way is similar to the one that Meridiam (Hoosier Networks) will still need to go through, to access Bloomington public-right-of-way for conduit installation.
Tuesday’s board approval of Lineal’s work comes a year after the board approved work by Lineal for AT&T internet fiber conduit installation in some other parts of the city. One of those areas was the Hyde Park subdivision in the southeast part of town.
In mid-June a resident of Hyde Park contacted The B Square asking about the potential connection between internet fiber conduit installation and the work he’d seen in his neighborhood last year—which involved digging trenches, and laying big orange-colored orange cable ducts.
Various lengths of the orange ducts were left sticking out of the ground, according to the resident, who described them like this, “So we all continue to live with the orange lengths writhing in full view, a little like sand worms in ‘Dune.’”
In that neighborhood, at least one orange length of cable duct is visible in the flyover photography done in connection with the Pictometry module of Monroe County’s online property lookup system.
A few days after The B Square emailed AT&T, asking for confirmation that it was their project, the Hyde Park resident reported that some workers showed up to dig into his backyard, to place the orange ducts underground.
In a statement to The B Square, AT&T confirmed the orange ducts are part of the company’s fiber network installation work.
The statement also said, “We continually invest in and work to expand our network, including our fiber footprint in communities like Bloomington. AT&T Fiber provides speed, bandwidth, reliability and security for consumers and businesses to enhance their internet experience.”
A page on AT&T’s website allows residents to check if their part of town is served by AT&T’s high-speed fiber network.
Monitoring future board of public works meeting agendas, which will include requests for use of right-of-way to install fiber conduit, is one way to get a glimpse of the way Bloomington’s market for high-speed internet service is shaping up.