In parts of Wildwood's more rugged terrain, city representatives for the past five years concertedly have sought a solution for providing high-speed Internet access to the 3,000-plus unserved and underserved city households. Now where best to locate a series of 100-feet wooden utility poles is a question.
Wildwood's director of planning and parks Joe Vujnich was scheduled to ask Planning and Zoning Commissioners at their Tuesday meeting to approve four locations for placing new utility poles in the city's Ward 6 most southwestern area. However homeowners who were slated on a site development recommendation plan to have poles erected near the front yards of their homes had not been contacted by city officials, and had no input into the location of the poles.
A series of phone calls and e-mails from homeowners in Fox Creek Valley Subdivision on Wednesday afternoon prompted Vujnich to postpone the commission's consideration of three of the proposed pole sites, until proper notification and discussions can take place.
At the meeting, Vujnich said he had relied on one of the identified Internet service providers to contact homeowners and subdivision trustees regarding the specific locations. That did not occur.
The poles were set up to be placed on easements, however the suggested locations are in residential subdivisions that were incorporated before the city of Wildwood's incorporation. Therefore, Wildwood does not own rights to the easements, and requires permission from subdivision trustees.
Residents, such as Barb Ellebrecht, said the lack of high speed Internet at Wildwood residences is negatively affecting the value of their homes. She lives off of Babler Woods Road, near Dr. Edmund A. Babler Memorial State Park, and told Wildwood Planning and Zoning Commissioners at Tuesday's meeting their family also cannot get cell phone service.
See article about Babler Park's news: Babler State Park in Wildwood Among 11 Now Offering Wireless Connections
"My son has even gone on top of our roof to try to get service, and we have a two-story home," said Ellebrecht.
"It sure would be helpful to have Internet service."
Vujnich said home-based commerce, overall economic development and safety, in some cases, also is being negatively impacted at homes lacking high speed options.
"If you want to see what it's really like for some of our Wildwood residents, turn off your Internet for a week," said Vujnich. "Even that's a long timeframe, and you wouldn't want to continue. It's just unacceptable."
Wildwood City Council members introduced a bill at their Jan. 14 meeting to purchase up to 16 utility poles to support high speed Internet access in rural areas of the city at a maximum cost of $90,000. The poles, which would extend above trees, would make it possible for residents to receive signals from two wireless service providers currently set to work with Wildwood on this special project: Bays ET of Pacific and Belleville, Ill.-based WisperISP.
City officials have $150,000 allotted for a slow rollout of Internet service. Vujnich said the money is intended to be used for capital assets, poles, electrical service or payments of easements.
Wildwood has had a citizen-based Rural Internet Access Committee researching technical options for the past couple of years. They implemented a successful pilot project, but a pursued arrangement with Charter Communications was not successful.
See previous article: Wildwood Is Looking for an Internet Provider – Again
Former city council member David Sewell has been involved with the Internet access committee and options throughout the process. He has blogged on Eureka-Wildwood Patch about it:
Sewell is suggesting a recoupment program for the utility poles to city council members, which he said is very fair and nominal.
Another service option investigated was via fiber optic, but it was not financially feasible.
Tuesday evening, Vujnich did recommend moving forward with one of the utility poles being erected at site inside of an undeveloped subdivision at 18621 Windy Hollow Lane. Wildwood would have rights to all utility corridors there, just like Laclede Gas. Commissioners approved that pole.
Council members are expected to readdress the overall high speed Internet situation at the Feb. 11 meeting. The Jan. 28 city council meeting was canceled due to the move into the new City Hall.