With some of its membership voicing opposition to a feasibility study to determine if a municipal fiber system is affordable and whether it would increase internet speeds, the Houston City Council took no step Monday to engage a firm to study the issue.
The council conducted a public survey earlier this year to determine interest in faster internet service. Sixty percent of those responding said they were interested or very interested in improved speeds.
A Springfield firm had proposed a $5,500 study to allow the council to determine if the system was financially possible, would increase speeds for businesses and residents and might provide a viable revenue stream like the city’s electrical system. City Economic Development Director Rob Harrington, who has spearheaded the effort for better internet in the community and suggested traveling to Marshall to tour its municipal system, has expressed the need for better internet speeds as part of industry recruitment needs. He told the council that the price was a deal –– and the favorable pricing had been confirmed by the state’s director of broadband development. The engineering study would assess the pole system, possible fiber routes, cost and payoff, Harrington said.
Councilwoman Kim Bittle said she didn’t feel the matter was a priority. She said the top obligation was marketing of the community. Her council colleague, Viki Narancich, strongly agreed, noting the electrical department was already struggling to maintain employees and this could accelerate that.
Alderman Kevin Stilley discussed work in Willow Springs and Cabool to bring faster internet. He said it would provide a revenue stream, much like Houston’s electricity sales.
“I personally think that it is something that we ought to look into,” he said. “If you go around this town, and I’m sure you hear it every day, that one thing that is complained about in the City of Houston is slow internet speed.”
Narancich countered that jobs, housing and schools were higher priorities. She said slow internet didn’t bother her.
No vote was taken.
In other matters, members:
•Approved a plan to close a section of Grand Avenue on Saturday from Mill Street to Main Street for a chamber festival. Merchants signed a petition requesting the move.
•Heard Mayor Willy Walker recommend Bittle as mayor pro-tem. It was approved by the council.
•Learned that water has been placed in the municipal swimming pool in anticipation of a Memorial Day opening.
•Reviewed bids for the city’s annual asphalt overlay program. About $170,000 has been budgeted. In the absence of the street superintendent, the council tabled making a decision on which roads receive attention. More potential projects are on the list than money to do it. It wasn’t clear when the work might be done.
•Heard from Harrington about a recently completed study that showed the city’s readiness to recruit industry and jobs. (See related story on Page xx).
•Denied a business license request from George Sholtz, who proposed operating a trash service for construction waste. He was presented documentation detailing why the city couldn’t legally approve the request. Sholtz also asked about possible public use of the pilots lounge at the Houston Memorial Airport. Councilman Joe Honeycutt said the use of the facility is restricted by the FAA and is not allowed for unauthorized people.
•Heard a progress report on the development of a city website.
•Learned that the city police force had visited with chamber officials about possible security upgrades at the Houston Visitors Center.
•Approved Mayor Willy Walker’s appointments of city clerk, Heather Sponsler; city attorney, Brad Edison; municipal judge, Mike Anderson; police chief, Tim Ceplina; and city treasurer, Bruce Wilson. Robbie Smith, fire chief; and Glenn McKinney, emergency preparedness director, continue in their positions.
•Adjourned into a closed session.