BY STEVE LORD, THE BEACON-NEWS / FEBRUARY 15, 2019 AURORA COUNCIL APPROVES FIBER CONNECTION TO NAPERVILLE
It took more than two months, several meetings and lots of discussion, but the Aurora City Council has approved spending money to extend the fiber optic cable across Diehl Road to hook up with Naperville.
In a unanimous vote, aldermen recently approved a $178,137 contract with NTI National Technologies, of West Chicago, to extend the city’s fiber optic cable from the southwest side of Diehl Road, at Eola Road, to the southeast side.
Aurora’s Information Technology officials have been pushing for the connection as a public safety measure, because Naperville and Aurora share emergency communications.
City officials have said the connection with Naperville would provide a backup to the one connection the two have elsewhere. That redundancy is important in case the system goes down at the one connection, which has happened on several occasions, they said.
That argument is what eventually convinced aldermen who had questioned if the move was more of an economic development move, normally handled by the city’s non-profit partner, OnLight Aurora, which administers the fiber optic network through an agreement with the city.
Ald. Richard Mervine, 8th Ward, said before the recent vote that while he had questions during discussions of the contract because he “felt some of the objectives were fluid all along,” he had his questions answered and he agreed the connection was “necessary.”
Ald. Robert O’Connor, at large, said he too had his questions answered about the necessity of the redundant connection.
“We simply had some issues we wanted to talk about,” he said. “We’re going to pursue some candid conversations about what to do to better relate the work of OnLight and the city.”
Consideration of the contract had languished in council committees for two months with aldermen and city staff debating if the proposal is a simple capital budget expenditure that has public safety implications, or if it's something that breaks with the tradition of how the city and OnLight Aurora have traditionally extended fiber.
In addition to the public safety aspect, extending the fiber has a secondary benefit for Aurora in that it makes it possible for businesses on the east side of Eola Road to hook-up to the fiber network.
Those kind of hook-ups — to other government agencies, education facilities or private business — have traditionally been done by OnLight Aurora and paid for by the entities looking to hook up. Aldermen had been asking if the city was paying to extend fiber to the businesses, something businesses have traditionally paid for.
Right now, Scientel Solutions Inc. is the main business that would want to hook on to the city's fiber on the east side of Eola Road. But there are three or four lots at the southwest corner of the intersection that could get access to the fiber if it crosses Eola Road, and OnLight Aurora reportedly has non-disclosure agreements with some companies to hook-on there if the fiber is extended.
The discussion over the extension has led to other debate about the relationship between OnLight Aurora and the city, which has been spelled out in several general service agreements between the two.
Both sides have said that agreement needs to be evaluated and likely updated.
“I think we need to clean up how we do this in the future,” said Mervine.
Some aldermen also considered another long-awaited fiber extension to the commercial suites in the River Street Plaza along South River Street, south of Benton Street.
Aldermen on the Finance Committee recommended extending the fiber to River Street using two ComEd poles at Cross Street.
The City Council originally approved the connection to River Street last year when it was thought the extension would be underground across River Street. OnLight Aurora has traditionally buried all its fiber optic cable.
But officials said it would be difficult — almost impossible — to bury the connection because of a high pressure gas line that runs along River Street. It would be much cheaper to use existing ComEd utility poles.
So the connection was delayed while the city negotiated pole fees with ComEd. According to the deal the Finance Committee recommended, the city would pay ComEd an annual fee of $28.94 a pole, or $57.88 total. The base fee would increase 3 percent a year.
Mike Baker, a network engineer for Aurora, said if the city had tried to bypass the high pressure gas line, it would have cost somewhere in the area of $120,000.
“It was more expensive to go under than over,” Baker said.
The full City Council still has to approve the deal, and officials estimated they could have the connection done by mid-March.