Piedmont City Council agrees to more talks on wireless Internet
by Laura Gaddy
Dec 04, 2013 | 5588 views |  0 comments | 89 89 recommendations | email to a friend | print
PIEDMONT — Tuesday a Piedmont City Council meeting turned into a venue for public discussion about the future funding of a wireless Internet service for local students.

A representative of the city school system and two representatives of an Internet company that the system pays to provide wireless service to Piedmont students addressed the council for more than thirty minutes. After the discussion, the council voted to host a work session with representatives from the schools and the Internet company to discuss the wireless Internet system.

Council members postponed a decision about whether they’ll help pay for students to use it.

“I’m encouraged that we are going to be able to sit down together, the three parties, and work toward a resolution,” said Rena Seals, Director of Technology for Piedmont City Schools.

The date and time of the work session was not set Tuesday.

The at-home Internet access for students, school officials say, is the underpinning of the school system’s progressive technology plan, which has helped it gain national recognition and more than $1 million in grant funding.

If the city doesn’t reinstate the monthly $6,250 payment it previously agreed to give the school system, the educators won’t be able to continue paying for students to have wireless Internet at home and in the community, Seals said.

And, if the schools can't afford to pay Wetumpka-based Information Transportation Services (ITS) for the Internet services, that company may stop paying a monthly $6,500 fee it agreed to pay the city to use its cables to supply the service to students, according to the representatives at the Tuesday meeting. The net loss to the city would be $250.

“We realize this is a service for the children but of course we can’t do everything for free,” said Jeff Drury, the Internet company’s chief financial officer. “There would be no need for us to continue the service at all.”

Some elected official said it wouldn’t make sense to nix school support that could hinder innovative advances in the system, especially if it would also mean the city would lose its contract with ITS.

Other council members say it doesn’t make financial sense to help the schools make their payments because the city struggles to provide basic city services and has no money in reserves.

“This whole technology thing is a school thing,” said Councilman Frank Cobb. “The city is not in the school business.”

In 2010 Piedmont City Schools received a federal grant to help establish the wireless Internet service to serve students at home. ITS agreed to pay the city $6,500 per month to use city-owned cables to supply Internet service to students for 10 years.

Beginning in April 2012 the city agreed to pay $6,250 per month for three years to help the school system supply the Internet service to students. Eight months later the city stopped making those payments when Rick Freeman was mayor and a new council was at the helm.

Staff writer Laura Gaddy: 256-235-3544. On Twitter @LGaddy_Star.

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