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Austin Department Under Fire

June 13, 2014

Austin Department Under Fire

By Steve Anderson
Contributing TMCnet Writer

The push to bring more fiber connections to more areas is being felt in areas all over the United States. Just recently, AT&T (News - Alert) made a move on Winston-Salem, N.C., with plans to follow up that particular move in several fields across the country. Google (News - Alert) Fiber, meanwhile, is likewise making advancements, and a host of other firms are also stepping up and getting involved. Meanwhile, in Austin, Texas, a new report from the Austin Business Journal shows that the business of hooking up fiber connections is getting so thick on the ground the government needs extra money to establish the necessary permits.

The report noted that the Austin Planning and Development Review Department put in a request for fully $700,000 for 2015, specifically to deal with permitting and inspection for the new networks that AT&T and Google were looking to install. More specifically, the $700,000 was to go to hire about 10 people to cover the excess paperwork and such that would be generated as a result. However, should this actually come to pass, the $700,000 wouldn't be so much an expense as it would be paying out money that hasn't been collected yet. The fees that Google and AT&T would pay to get the fiber networks in place would offset the initial expense. However, city planning and development review director Greg Guernsey noted that the city's fees haven't been modified in some time, and as a result, the city may not be collecting enough money to cover the costs of the city's work. A fee study done almost three years ago, Guernsey noted, found that “...the majority of my fees were found to not even be coming close.”

However, some noted that, even if the city's fees weren't high enough to properly recoup costs, the question of just what to do about the matter was unclear. Indeed, the thought of hiking fees in the middle of a major utility project struck some as a bad idea, especially given that Austin had previously hosted several joint events with the company, welcoming Google to Austin. Google and AT&T, meanwhile, kept largely mum on the topic.

Indeed, this isn't a good position for Austin to be in. While it certainly has to do some oversight of the project to make sure public safety and the like is accommodated, it's still not a good sign that it needs an extra six-figure sum—and a fairly high six figures at that—to properly do its job. Worse yet, Austin certainly doesn't want to see the projects—either one, really—canceled midway through, especially given the kind of economic impact that high-speed connectivity of this nature can pose. Businesses are likely eagerly awaiting gigabit fiber access to help improve communications, so for Austin to cut the project short over a lack of funding to carry out inspections could have serious backlash for the local government.

While Austin does have something of a duty to ensure the safety and well-being of its citizens, perhaps here, the city is going too far in terms of inspections. Nearly a million dollars extra for such things likely doesn't help matters, especially in a down economy when businesses were hoping for improved communications to help improve current fortunes. Austin—and cities like it--might do well to remember where that extra regulatory money would come from, and how getting in the way of the production of said money might end up less than positively for the city as a whole.

Edited by Maurice Nagle
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