ALPENA - Allband Communications Co-operative has been pleading with the Alpena County Road Commission to lower its permit fee for the use of the right -of-way for underground utilities so the nonprofit company can install fiber in rural parts of Alpena County.
When the fiber is installed, it will provide people in the more remote areas of the county with broadband Internet service, where little exists currently. After some deliberation, the road commission board agreed to cap the fee at $2,000 and hold a $12,000 deposit to cover any potential damages to the right-of-way.
Lindsay Smolinski of Allband said the company is using money from a federal grant to pay for the upgrade in local connectivity, and all told the road commission's fees for this year would total about $50,000 because of charges by the amount of feet covered. Smolinski said the fee in Alpena County was much higher than in neighboring counties and even what the Michigan Department of Transportation charges.
"For this year alone we figure there will be more than $50,000 in Alpena County Road Commission fees, and what we are asking is the county bring them in line with other counties or MDOT," Smolinski said. "In Alcona it was only $75 with a $60-an-hour inspection fee also. For four permits through the DOT it was only $2,100, which would allow us to do 20 miles. Every dollar we have to spend on permit fees cut down the number of people we are going to be able to reach. I ask you to examine your fee structure overall, because in terms of the community overall I don't think it is what's best for growth and economical development. Our engineers do this work all over the country, and they say they have never seen these types of charges outside of Michigan."
Board member Darrel Spragg said he was in favor of setting a cap, but not having an inspection fee because of the amount of paperwork, record keeping and scheduling concerns. Ray Nickles said he thought the county's fees were in line with the surrounding counties. Smolinski said Montmorency charges a similar rate, but only one mile of fiber is being installed, so she isn't going to pursue a reduction in fee. She said if it were any more, she would take the same approach as she has in Alpena. Capping the rate was a tough sell to Nickles because of concern that when Allband was done with the project, if something went wrong he suspected it wouldn't be back to fix it.
"Our internal cost structure is built to make sure that anything that happens in the future after you're gone, that is caused by this project, isn't coming out of the public's pockets to fix," Nickles said. "I have a feeling once you're gone, you aren't going to come back and fix a problem. That is why our price structure is built the way it is."
In the end the board voted to take the money already paid, which is about $12,000 and hold it as a security deposit, which would be returned after the job was completed. It will then charge Allband $2,000 a year for the permit. Smolinski said she would have to get the approval of her boss, but anticipated the deal would be acceptable.
"We don't have any issue laying ourselves on the line like this," Smolinski said. "We really stand by what we do. We're not looking to place it and run."
The fiber currently is being installed on M-32 West between M-65 and the Village of Hillman.
Steve Schulwitz can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 358-5689.