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Athens City Council: City-sponsored WiFi could be reality in the future

Athens could soon cash in on providing wireless connection services to Uptown businesses, Mayor Paul Wiehl said, although the plan is still in its preliminary stages.

The subject of city-sponsored WiFi came up during Monday night’s Athens City Council meeting when the legislative body was discussing an extension of its franchise agreement with American Electric Power.

Wiehl said Andy Stone, city engineer and director of public works, is looking at ways Athens could incorporate optical fiber lines into the city’s infrastructure in order to feed internet connection into local businesses, who would pay the city for the service.

“I am not an expert,” Wiehl said. “But I can see the attractiveness.”

The network would mirror a similar program in Dublin that Athens city officials discovered after a conversation with the Dublin's economic development administrator, Jeremiah Gracia.

Dublin won an award for its system, called DubLink, from the Intelligent Community Forum in 2011.

Wiehl cited the several advantages that a system similar to DubLink’s could provide Athens.

In Dublin, Wiehl said, the network delivers nearly 10 gigabytes of data per second and has caused an increase in property values.

Wiehl added that Stone is looking to install conduits into the city’s infrastructure that would allow for the installation of the optical fiber cables at a later date.

“Where do you start?” Wiehl said. “Do you wait twenty years or do you get started right away... The idea is to develop a strategy first, then move forward.”

Councilman Steve Patterson, D-at large, echoed Wiehl’s enthusiasm. He said one of the main reasons Dublin developed the service was to accommodate the Ohio University campus that recently opened there, adding that he’s met with Gracia.

“I’m sitting here thinking about Athens and OU, and I’m glad that the city is exploring it,” Patterson said.

Councilmembers also addressed appropriations for 2015, primarily relating to a proposed bridge along the Columbus Road Bike Path Spur.

Councilwoman Michele Papai, D-3rd Ward, said the project would require $305,000 from the city to get off the ground, in addition to grants from Clean Ohio and the Ohio Department of Transportation.

Papai said she was bringing this to the attention of the council because it was a “pretty substantial amount of money.”

Councilman Jeff Risner, D-2nd Ward, said he was discouraged by the cost of the project.

“That’s a chunk of change,” he said. “Frankly I didn’t think it was going to cost this much… the bridge on the River Kwai didn’t cost this much.” | @wtperkins

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