City negotiates with Meridiam on internet infrastructure

Columbus is considering partnering with a company on creating the necessary infrastructure to bring high-speed internet to more than 80% of local residences.

The Columbus Board of Works has approved a letter of intent with Meridiam Infrastructure North America Corp. for this purpose.

City Director of Finance, Operations and Risk Jamie Brinegar described it as “a letter of intent between the city of Columbus and Meridiam Infrastructure to take the necessary steps to negotiate in good faith and execute an agreement prior to Dec. 31 to develop and operate a fiber network that serves the Columbus community on a long-term basis and for Meridiam to construct a fiber to home network that will reach at least 85% of all Columbus residences.”

The document is just the letter and not an actual contract, Brinegar said. Since the letter has been approved, the city will work on a contract with Meridiam over the next three months. The company is seeking a 25-year agreement.

“Meridiam will do all the capital infrastructure, and they are not asking for any money from the city of Columbus as part of this project,” Brinegar added.

Assuming a contract is reached, Meridiam would provide the infrastructure but not be the actual internet provider, said Director of Community Development and Administration Mary Ferdon. The company would contract with an internet service provider for that component.

The provider would pay Meridiam back for the use of the conduit for their fiber, Brinegar said.

In talking about the benefits of this service, he said that for providers such as Comcast and U-verse, the fiber is brought through cable, which somewhat limits available speed. If the city works with Meridiam, the fiber will be run through a conduit throughout the community and then be directed to users’ houses.

“Initially, we’ll have one gigabit speed available, and we’ll have the ability to expand up to 10 gigabit speed,” he explained. “For example, right now at my home through U-verse, 25 megabits is what I generally have for download speed.”

According to the Internet & Television Association, one gigabit is equal to 1,000 megabits, making one gigabit speed 40 times faster than Brinegar’s current speed — and 10 gigabits is 400 times faster.

Bringear also noted that Meridiam is looking to ensure that underserved areas have the same access to fiber as other parts of the community.

“So it won’t just go in, say, Tipton Lakes,” he said. “It will hit all areas of the community. And right now they’re telling us the cost will be under $100, most likely between $70 and $90 a month for this service.”

The community will also continue to have the option to choose other internet providers.

Board member John Picket noted that high-speed internet could help attract remote workers to the community.

“It will be a huge plus to make us a community of choice,” Brinegar agreed. “It will also be of great benefit to those who are working from home already, as well as our students when they go to remote learning.”

Brinegar noted that Bartholomew County officials are also working on a potential agreement with Meridiam, and other cities are partnering with the company as well, including Bloomington, Martinsville and Shelbyville.

There is still work to be done before the city reaches an agreement with Meridiam, however.

Ferdon reiterated that the letter of intent doesn’t commit the city to anything, they still have to work with attorneys and Meridiam to create a contract.

“This is a level of complexity that nobody here has really dealt with before,” she said. “…We will bring in an attorney from Indianapolis who will work with us and the county to make sure that we get this right.”

Brinegar will lead the effort, with assistance from city attorney Alan Whitted, who has spoken with county attorney Grant Tucker. Officials have also worked closely with the city of Bloomington.