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"I'd Probably Be Assassinated" if High-Speed Internet is not Secured, Says Wildwood Councilmember

UPDATE, VIDEOS: Approval to purchase utility poles mandatory for initiating high-speed Internet infrastructure in rural parts of Wildwood gets green light after many residents' pleas and lengthy council debate Monday evening.

It all started with recent discussions and plans for Wildwood city officials to spend $90,000 to purchase up to 16 new utility poles so high-speed Internet access finally might be delivered to the most rugged portions of Wildwood, after more than a decade of searching for solutions. Owners of the vast majority of Wildwood's 3,000 households currently unserved or underserved bought property and woodlands to protect in Wildwood long before the Internet existed, so it is not as though they knew it was lacking ahead of time and now are crying foul after the fact. They've just been requesting assistance from the city to facilitate the infrastructure needed, much like other residents request assistance with lighting, trails, roads, sidewalks, intersections, snow clearance and subdivision issues.

However, the outcome of the Internet-related utility poles clearly was not clear-cut during Monday's council meeting. Some councilmembers said they do not believe in using taxpayers' funds to offset what they deemed a private service. Other councilmembers demanded more details from the citizen-led Rural Internet Access Committee regarding a recoupment program. And other councilmembers said they believed it was high time to launch the basics needed to give Internet service providers the poles necessary to set up.

This debate came after city councilmembers not that long ago had set aside $3 million to work with Charter Communications to provide the same type of service. Charter eventually failed to complete the legal negotiations with Wildwood, and no longer is considered an option.

Many residents spoke during the public comments portion of Monday's council meeting, and councilmembers voiced a variety of opinions as well.

"I encourage you to look at this as a community effort," said councilmember David Geile, Ward 1, to his fellow members at the council meeting Monday evening.

"Without high-speed Internet, some of our residents are withering on the vine. It's truly a quality of life issue," said Geile, who has lived in Wildwood for the past 25 years and only recently gained access to high speed Internet via the city's pilot project for Babler Forest.

"I'd probably be assassinated if we don't come out of this meeting with a plan regarding the necessary utility poles," Geile said.

Wildwood planning and parks director Joe Vujnich said securing the poles was really about expediting the technology rollout to be provided by two vendors:  Bays ET of Pacific and Belleville, Ill.-based WisperISP.

Wildwood student Sam Mulcahy said his entire physics book was online, and he described the challenges of not having Internet access, like other students do.

Former city councilmember David Sewell challenged all the councilmembers to go for one week on dial-up Internet service, before they considered not voting in support of the utility poles.

Jay Kappmeier, a Wildwood resident who pointed out that he and many other residents pay for their own water wells, snow removal and other amenities that on the flipside are covered by city funds in other parts of the municipality, emphasized that a number of answers about the Internet project had been provided. "If you're waiting to get down to the very last penny of proposed rates, that can't be determined at this second. But, you, yourselves went ahead and moved into the new city hall obviously before everything was hooked up. Not everything was worked out, but you chose to move in anyway."

David Berry, another Wildwood resident, said any step forward on poles will not be a backward step in the future. "We need to get started, and we need these poles to get to where we desperately need to be."

Berry said a percentage of city funds that are "orders of magnitude bigger" than the proposed cost of the utility poles are spent on trail and street improvements. "Those projects don't help everybody either. It's time to pony up and do something for our part of the city. We know this is the direction we want to go, but we still need the poles."

Rural Internet Access Committee chair Rick Kallaus said the group was fully exploring recoupment options. "I hope councilmembers can bring themselves together and vote for poles tonight," he said.

After much fanfare and additional comments, councilmembers approved an ordinance to move forward with the poles' purchase, provided that recoupment models also will be provided.

Read related articles and blogs about this topic:

Wildwood Is Looking for an Internet Provider – Again

Internet Coming to Rural Wildwood

Wildwood Rural Internet Rollout Update

Babler State Park in Wildwood Among 11 Now Offering Wireless Connections

Internet Coming to Rural Wildwood

High Speed Internet for Rural Wildwood: Not So Fast!

Tom Hawver February 13, 2013 at 04:09 PM
A well written article. Thank you. However, the divide between east and west Wildwood, and the services received could have been highlighted even more. The fact that council members representing wards other than 1 and 6 bristle so quickly at the idea of not recouping $90k speaks to a larger, highly inequitable, problem. There are 2 Wildwoods. One east of 109 with representation and services. The other, west of 109, with minimal representation and paltry services. But hey, at least we'll be able to take a leak at the Al Foster trailhead soon.
Julie Brown Patton (Editor) February 13, 2013 at 04:49 PM
Agreed, Tom, that many more details could be shared about this topic. Frankly, the meeting ran very long, especially due to many more specific comments and questions about high-speed Internet access, and it was challenging to determine where best to cut off the sharing of comments. That could be a whole other article!
Tim Woerther February 13, 2013 at 05:37 PM
I think it's critical to note that in the end the vote of City Council was unanimous to proceed with the pole purchase. To clarify wards 1, 2, 3, 6 and even 8 have portions of which share the same problem of either being un-served or underserved. That is the reason that the effort was undertaken to begin with. I am thankful that we are begining to see results with technology that is providing the level of service that meets current demands.
Tim Gray February 13, 2013 at 07:13 PM
I thought it was a good meeting. The people who were at the meeting had the opportunity to have a say. I believe there are multiple models for recouperation that have been submitted. It was mentioned repeatedly during the discussion. The vote was merely to move forward with securing poles for the transmitting stations. I understand the apprehension of people and the want for more information about the issue of internet service. However, I think the city is wisely moving forward and making the effort to include all of the Wildwood community in this endeavor. It would take an enormous amount of effort and time to spoon feed everyone the information about the who's, what's, and how's of the internet service. If people (east or west of 109) are feeling uninformed, they need to make the effort to educate themselves and attend the meetings. If people are feeling under-served or under-represented, they need to be regularly communicating with the council, attending the meetings, and be more involved in the city activities. If you don't feel represented, you need to represent yourself and be present at the meetings to have your voice heard. People need to stop whining about the "have's and the have not's" and start working with the city if they truly want their needs met...
Eileen Tyrrell February 14, 2013 at 05:28 AM
Mayor Woerther Thank you for making note of that critical fact. I appreciate the clarification.

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