The term ‘Gigabit City’ has been thrown around in the community for a while now. At its core, the aim of this initiative is to bring higher-speed internet – one gigabit speed – to Celina.
The Easement Ordinance amendment, which was passed by the City Council on Tuesday, requires developers to install fiber optic lines and conduits. Fiber optic lines use glass or plastic threads to transmit data. These lines can lead to faster communication and internet speeds.
The ordinance that passed states, “... a fiber optic network in the City of Celina, Texas is a fundamental aspect of the infrastructure required to educate youth, create jobs, promote public safety, improve citizens’ standards of living and deliver essential services.”
As with anything, high-speed internet comes at a price. Several developers spoke at the public hearing, concerned that the price may fall on them. Fred Balda is president of Hillwood Communities. The development company is responsible for Lilyana, a Celina neighborhood in development. He expressed several worries and requested a workshop for developers and city officials.
“I’m really excited about this Gigabit City,” he said. “My main issue is just how it’s rolled out and making sure that it’s thoughtful in that we really make sure we talk to all the stakeholders involved in how this is implemented.”
He also said the ordinance was relatively vague in reference to financing and implementing.
“There’s probably four or five main developers right now building in your city,” Balda said. “Every single one that I spoke to today doesn’t have the details about this ordinance. Yes, everyone’s aware of the Gigabit City and it all sounds great, but there’s no substance behind how this is going to be implemented.”
Celina resident Jay Pierce, however, spoke in direct opposition to slowing down the initiative. He said he uses three different internet plans to provide for his family in DC Ranch.
“We need something fast, and we need it fast fast,” he said. “I really hope that you guys, as a council, take everybody into account. Not just in the areas that are being developed, but the areas already developed. We need help now.”
Scott Stawski, secretary and board member for the EDC council, spoke about the reasoning behind the timing and the rollout process.
“Over the past two years, we’ve met with every single service provider that officers service within the municipality,” he said. “We’ve met with Suddenlink, GECC, ATT as well as a couple of small providers, as well as 14 national providers that do not currently offer services in Celina. And today, no one offers gigabit connectivity.”
“What we’re really trying to accomplish is that 100 percent coverage,” he continued. “That is not offered and is not planned on being offered by any of the current providers.”
Stawski said there have been many meetings with developers, and ordinance drafts and plans have been shared. In the end, despite requests from developers to slow down on the Gigabit City initiative, he said it is time to move forward.
“The reason why we’re doing this now is because Celina is in such a unique position,” Stawski said. “We’re 8 percent built out right now, but we have a clear line of sight of being 100 percent built out in 20 years. The cost of retrofitting a community is astronomical.”
Director of government affairs for the Dallas Builders Association David Lehde also voiced concerns from a developer’s perspective.
“Where in the regulatory language is there a guarantee that builders and developers will be reimbursed for the lines that they put in the ground?” he asked.
Once the public hearing closed, it was time for the city to take action. The ordinance amendment passed unanimously.
“I think it’s time to move forward with it,” Mayor Sean Terry said. “I think we may have found some pitfalls down the road, but we can work on those when we get there. We’ve been working on this for two years. Our P&Z approved this unanimously, and our EDC – I put full faith in those guys. I feel like until council takes action to show that it’s a real deal, then we’re not doing our citizens or our town a service.”
“I’ve been on council for 11 years, and to me, I feel like this is the one thing that could set us apart as a community,” he added.