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!