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City may expand fiber network
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The city of Covington has saved around $60,000 per year since it began creating its own fiber optic cable network to connect its buildings across the city, and officials hope to be able to offer those kinds of savings to other local government entities and possibly create another revenue stream in the future.

By connecting buildings together with the fiber cable, the city is able to share Internet and phone services, avoiding having to pay for several separate accounts, and can also quickly share digital information across a secure city network.

The city previously paid as much as $88,000 to lease fiber from Charter Communications and have multiple Internet accounts, according to information technology manager Bobby Johnson. But a one-time investment of $55,000 has led to significant savings and paid for itself multiple times over.

The city has the ability to run fiber cable across town because it sells utilities, including electricity, which gives it access to utility poles for above-ground fiber and water, sewer and gas pipes so it can run fiber underground if possible.

The Covington Municipal Airport is the next city property up for connection.

City officials are in conversations with the county about connecting multiple properties, including connecting the Cornish Creek Water Treatment Plant at Lake Varner to the Newton County Administration Building on Usher Street.

Another potential customer is the Covington Housing Authority, which has four separate locations in the city.
The Newton County Library System, which has three locations, is also interested, but because its other locations are far out in the county, the city would need to reach some sort of agreement with Snapping Shoals EMC, another electric provider that also leases fiber cable. The city already has an agreement with Snapping Shoals, where each entity has provided service to areas the other couldn’t reach.

One of the first customers could be the nonprofit entity Georgia Public Web, which is tasked with spreading high-speed Internet access across the state. Covington is also a part-owner of Georgia Public Web, which is a member-owned organization. The company wants a connection to the Elm Street power substation so some entity will be able to monitor the substation remotely. The Covington City Council agreed Monday to offer a monthly leasing price of $500.

Charter can charge up to $1,000 to lease a single pair of fiber — there are 36 pairs in the fiber the city is laying — while Snapping Shoals is around $500 a month, Johnson told the City Council at its regularly scheduled work session Monday. Because there are so many pairs of fiber in each cable, the city could theoretically hook up three dozen buildings, using one pair each, for each cable.

Johnson said the intent is not to compete with Charter, but to try to save the city and other governments money; there is no intent at this point to offer fiber services to private businesses, though that could always change in the future. One key difference is that Charter manages the fiber for customers, monitoring its status, while the city would only lease between two end points.

Managing fiber requires more equipment and maintenance, and Johnson said the city is not interested in pursuing that at this time.

Maintenance costs are always a concern with new ventures, but Johnson said fiber is very low- maintenance and lasts more than 20 years in many cases. He said the fiber between city hall and nearby planning and zoning building has never failed in the 15 years it’s been installed. Fiber is also very durable, and Johnson told the council he’s even seen it flip a dump truck that tried to drive through it.

The city is not currently leasing any fiber from anyone else. It has two redundant Internet connections—– one with Charter and one with Windstream Communications — in case one fails. The city pays Charter $800 a month for its Internet service.

City elected officials, including Mayor Ronnie Johnston, expressed excitement about the future opportunity having a large fiber network provided.