The big news out of last week’s November Town Board meeting was two things: the decision to go with Hotwire as the closed system provider on the town’s broadband highway known as Highlands Smart Cities Network and the passing of an amendment to the Highlands Code of Ordinances requiring locked lids on bear-resistant toters, or risk a penalty.
Mayor Pat Taylor said not securing lids and letting garbage overflow defeats the purpose of a bear-resistant toter.
The broadband highway issue was discussed in closed session with the outcome released the next day.
In closed session the Highlands Board of Commissioners heard reports from Town Attorney JK Coward, Finance Director Rebecca Shuler and IT Director Matt Shuler concerning the financial status of two companies that submitted bids to lease the dark fiber of the Highlands Smart Cities Network.
Initially three companies submitted a Request for Proposal (RFP) – North Carolina Broadband, Balsam West and Hotwire, but prior to the Town Board meeting North Carolina Broadband – the only “open” network contender – withdrew its bid.
During the closed session, the board also heard a report from the Town Manager Josh Ward concerning the references of the two companies.
In open session the board voted 4 to 1 to enter into contract negotiations with Hotwire Communications. Commissioner Marc Hehn voted “nay.”
Town staff will now develop a draft contract for the leasing of the dark fiber. The draft contract will be reviewed by the board and then sent to Hotwire Communications for their review and acceptance.
In addition, in a 5-0 vote, the board called for a public hearing at the December Town Board meeting to refinance the fiber optic buildout project loan with BB &T at a lower interest rate.
If the town makes more on the loan than the cost of building out the network, it has to be a taxable loan.
Hotwire is offering $10,200,000 over 25 years – far more than the 15-year $4.6 million loan with interest.
The nutshell of Hotwire’s RFP is to begin connecting customers three months after connection of upstream bandwidth; for residential customers they will offer Internet up to 10 Gps, voice, television, home automation and home security; and will build underground in three years with customer commitment.
“We will be negotiating the expedient build-out of the underground portions of the network,” said Mayor Pat Taylor. “About 17%-18% of neighborhoods have underground utilities and the fiber will have to be underground, too, in those areas.”
Hotwire’s fees for various residential and commercial packages are very competitive. However, customers who want to stay with the town’s initial provider – and the only other provider on the “highway” – Altitudes – may do so. Hotwire said it will honor those prices.
“Hotwire Communications is a community driven, all-fiber service provider with an exemplary track record of technology leadership and innovation spanning two decades. Founded in 2000, Hotwire Communications provides a full suite of fiber-based telecommunications services to residential, commercial, hospitality, governmental, and educational customers across the Southeast. Hotwire Communications is headquartered in Fort Lauderdale, FL with regional operations throughout Florida, North Carolina, Georgia, South Carolina and Pennsylvania.”
“Hotwire will bring its best-in-class, fiber-based telecommunications services for residential, business, educational, hospitality and wholesale customers to the Town of Highlands.
“Residential customers will be connected by XGSPON, providing up to 10Gbps of connectivity to each home. Businesses will be connected either by XGSPON or by switched fiber connections depending on the level of services required.”
Altitude Community Broadband
“Hotwire will make no changes in the services or pricing for existing customers, but would welcome and encourage them to sign up for fiber-based services when available.
“We believe that products and services offered by Hotwire over the Town’s network will be more affordable and robust, but if a current customer wishes to keep their current pricing and services, they would be allowed to keep them for as long as the technology supporting them can be run reliably. Any transition would be done after notification and coordinating with customers so that the change in service minimizes any effect on the customer’s broadband use.
“High speed Internet, voice, television, and home automation/security are standard offerings for residential and small and medium business customers that Hotwire will bring to the Highlands. Pricing and services will remain competitive and in sync with the prices and offerings in larger, competitive markets – introducing residents and businesses to prices and services that are typically driven by rich competition.”
Time to Subscriber Connections
“Bringing in sufficient, secured connectivity and connecting it to Hotwire’s core network will be a top priority upon signing an agreement or Letter of Intent (LOI.) Hotwire has several data centers in relative proximity to Highlands and there is existing fiber in the region that should reduce the time required to establish and test connectivity.
“While it is securing connectivity, Hotwire will be working on its headend facility, marketing and early signups so that service can be provided once connection is established and tested. Hotwire will commit to lighting its first, non-beta/testing customer no more than three months after connectivity is established but would aim to light its first customers following a two-week testing period of the connectivity and the network.”
“After signing an agreement, Hotwire will begin the process of setting up a local office and storefront in the Town of the Highlands – staffing the office and operation from the local community.”
“Hotwire proposes that it take over all aspects of the of network management, service provision, infrastructure maintenance, support and all associated functions of the Town’s current network and infrastructure. Hotwire will be responsible for providing its full suite of residential, commercial and enterprise services over the network – including voice, video, Internet, and home security/automation.
“All risk associated with the operation of the network – including, but not limited to headend builds and upgrades, infrastructure maintenance, labor employment and cost, broadband cost, customer premises equipment, and content costs will be borne by Hotwire.
“As consideration for its network lease, Hotwire proposes to pay the Town of Highlands $425,000 in quarterly payments beginning in 2022 through 2045.
“As with all portions of this RFP, Hotwire looks forward to discussions both before a final agreement is completed and regular discussions between the Town and Hotwire to ensure that the project is successful and sustainable for all parties involved,” reads the RFP.
“Hotwire seeks to provide competitive services and pricing based on its local and national market evaluations. We are committed to aggressive pricing and will keep the rates for services in the Town of Highlands on par with those offered in more competitive markets.
“Customers are offered bundles, month to month services, and term contracts so they can find a package that allows them to afford and enjoy their services. Hotwire is aggressive with new customer promotions and existing customer upsells. In all markets, Hotwire’s prices for broadband services remain below those of the incumbent providers for similarly bandwidth, but without the fiber advantage.”
Mayor Taylor said he expects the contract negotiations and subsequent service to citizens to proceed smoothly and to happen as soon as possible.
By Kim Lewicki, Highlands Newspaper