Construction of a municipally owned high-speed internet system could start next month following the approval of several bids on Monday by the Houston City Council.

Members okayed a $63,847 construction bid from ADB Companies, which is headquartered in Pacific and has completed recent similar municipal jobs in several Midwest states. Work is expected to begin within the next 30 days. Under a plan approved earlier, a loop through the city would first be completed and equipment will be installed at the Houston Storm Shelter at Pine and First streets in Houston. All city structures would be connected first. The bid was about $7,200 lower than expected.

The council approved an additional $7,844 for 13,000 feet of fiber optic cable for the main line. It earlier had approved $240,000 for the spools of cable and other required equipment. James Lightfoot, with the Oklahoma-based engineering firm working on the project, ACRS Telecommunications Consulting and Engineering Services, said despite disruptions in the economy due to COVID-19, the company was successful in acquiring the wiring. City Administrator Scott Avery said the cable has been delivered to the city, and was key to launching the project in order to provide connections to the Houston School District before classes resume in August.

Members also approved a $29,024 bid for miscellaneous hardware needed by the system, including  splicing equipment for the fiber optics wiring.

Lightfoot said negotiations continue with two suppliers of incoming bandwidth to the city. Momentum Telecom and CenturyLink are preparing proposals and preliminary talks show that the monthly cost will be cheaper than earlier predicted. Previous estimates put the cost at about $11,000 monthly. Projections show that may be below $9,000 monthly. A feasibility study predicted total costs at about $28,000 per mile. The actual price looks to be about $25,000 per mile.

So what other pieces remain for the project? Lightfoot said wiring from the main line to houses and businesses remains to be bid. Professional services for the installation of equipment at the storm shelter also are being sought.

City leaders said the project is key to providing high-speed internet to the community with speeds up to 1 gig that are currently unavailable. The enterprise will be operated as a unit within the electrical department. The move also is expected to help with economic development efforts, and was highlighted as a plus in a recent consultant’s report on the labor force and large employers.

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