Aurora council wants more study of using ComEd poles to expand fiber optic network

Written by Steve Lord, Aurora Beacon-News. July 11, 2018. Aurora council wants more study of using ComEd poles to expand fiber optic network

Aurora aldermen want to take a closer look at a plan to use ComEd poles for the expansion of the city’s fiber optic network.

Council members voted to send to the City Council Finance Committee a proposal to lease some of the electric utility’s poles to expand the city’s fiber optic network, most notably to the Aurora Municipal Airport in Sugar Grove.

Using the poles means the city would mount the fiber optic for the first time aerially, rather than burying it. Aldermen decided that is a change that needed more study.

“Have we decided we want to abandon the fact we are 100 percent underground?” said Ald. Rick Mervine, 8th Ward. “I would love to be able to get fiber out there (to the airport). But if we start putting the fiber on poles, we are subject to the same problems as the electric – weather, trees falling …”

The actual proposal before the council was to approve an agreement between ComEd and the city for use of the poles.

Michael Pegues, Aurora’s chief information technology officer, said there is no specific proposal for leasing the poles yet. Consequently, aldermen were not approving spending any actual money.

“First, we need to get the contract signed,” Pegues said.

For that reason, he brought it forward as new business on the council agenda, without taking it through the council’s committee structure.

But aldermen were more concerned that putting the fiber optic on poles, rather than burying it, was a policy change that needed more council study.

That is particularly true, aldermen said, because in addition to getting fiber optic to the airport, city technology officials also proposed to use poles to bring fiber across River Street from the Aurora Public Library to the businesses on the first floor of the River Street condos.

“The point here is that new elements are coming in,” said Ald. Robert O’Connor, at large. “It’s not that we’re necessarily going to have problems with it. We didn’t have the opportunity to discuss it.”

Aldermen already have approved extending fiber to the businesses on the first floor of the River Street condos. That is in keeping with the city’s policy of wiring businesses, public buildings and educational facilities.

But the city’s contractor that installs the fiber said they could save $15,000 on wiring River Street if they used the ComEd poles downtown rather than bury the cable underneath the street.

Pegues said “there is no policy about how we do fiber,” and using poles rather than burying the cable is “a business decision.”

But he said later he supported O’Connor’s desire to have the Finance Committee review the idea, so it would give him a chance to explain it and give an overview of using poles.

If the city wants to get fiber optic to the airport, the poles seem the most likely option. The airport is five miles from the closest connection for the city. There are 128 ComEd poles between that connection and the airport.

Tech officials told aldermen it would likely cost between $800,000 and $1 million to bury the cable all the way to the airport, but likely between $400,000 and $500,000 to use the poles.

It’s also projected that it would cost the city $3,800 a year to rent the poles from ComEd.