Highlands signs contract with Hotwire Communications to manage fiber highway

At the October Town Board meeting, commissioners voted unanimously to accept Hotwire Communications’ contract as the closed system provider of the town’s broadband highway known as Highlands Smart Cities Network. The town officially sealed the deal after signing the contract on Oct. 29.

It’s taken seven years from inception to completion, which included building the infrastructure highway, picking a provider, and finalizing the contract.

“It has been a long and major effort in developing the Highlands Smart Cities Fiber Optic System,” said Mayor Pat Taylor in a submitted statement. “Staff, commissioners, attorneys, and experts have been working on this project for seven years. In many respects it has been a learning experience that caused the town to rethink plans and adjust strategies, especially as this technology and industry has at times witnessed rapid and unforeseen changes.”

For the last two years, each time various aspects of the project were voted upon by the Town Board – Feb. 27, 2020, March 3, 2020, December 17, 2020, January 21, 2021 – Commissioner Marc Hehn logged the one and only dissenting vote.

However, with the contract hammered out by Highlands’ and Hotwire’s attorneys, when presented at the Oct. 21 Town Board meeting, Hehn voted with his fellow board members to unanimously make Hotwire the provider on Highlands broadband highway.

With the broadband highway nearing completion, in October of 2020 the town issued a Request for Proposal (RFP). On October 26, 2020, three proposals were received. Of those three proposals, the Town Board chose Hotwire communications.

Since that time, staff along with the town’s legal counsel, formed a legal team with Jim Baller and Sean Stokes of Keller and Heckman LLP in Washington DC, and Gabriel DuSablon of Cauley and Pridgen of N.C. to develop and negotiate a contract that followed the RFP issued by the town.

This was to ensure the town’s goals would be accomplished now and into the future while following all state and federal applicable laws and the contract was agreeable to Hotwire communications.

“I want to thank our attorneys who helped the town navigate and negotiate all the legal issues related to developing this network, Jim Baller and Sean Stokes at the national level, Gabriel Dusablon at the state level and Jay Coward our Town Attorney,” said Taylor.

Taylor added that he appreciated all the time and effort it took to culminate the deal.

“I want to thank the companies that town staff and board members met with as a part of this effort, and those companies who took the time to submit proposals,” he said. “We had very good responses, and we believe we selected the best proposal for the town.”

Based on its offer, Hotwire was chosen to lease the highway from the town, guaranteeing a profit for the town of $10,200,000 over 25 years – far more than the town’s 15-year $4.6 million loan through BB&T with interest.

“I want to thank the folks at Hotwire for their willingness to invest and serve the community of Highlands.” Said Taylor. “We appreciate Johnathan Bullock of Hotwire and his determination to bring their extensive services to Highlands. We look forward to a productive and mutually beneficial relationship.”

Hotwire is expected to begin connecting customers in early 2022. For residential customers it will offer Internet up to 10 Gps, voice, television, home automation, and home security; and within three years will build underground portions of the network where needed as long as customers commit to hooking on.

About 18% of neighborhoods in Highlands have underground utilities and the fiber will have to be underground in those areas.

Hotwire’s fees for various residential and commercial packages are very competitive. Altitude is now part of Hotwire and early on it said it would honor those prices and packages if that’s what customers want.

“I believe this network and lease agreement with Hotwire Communications will have a lasting impact on the future of Highlands and how we all live, work and enjoy this wonderful community,” said Taylor. “Our businesses, homes, town utilities operations, educational and medical services will all be transformed because we have this state-of-the-art system. While other communities continue to plan for such fiber systems, Highlands now has a world class network in place and operational.”

Lastly, Taylor thanked the Highlands Town Board of Commissioners for their support and hard work over the past years in developing the fiber network, as well as town staff.

“I also want to thank our town staff for the many hours that they have devoted to this project, especially Josh Ward our Town Manager, and Matt Shuler our Information and Technology Director,” said Taylor. “Matt has spent countless hours as our representative to the various groups involved in the project. He has had the patience and endurance to see the project to its completion. Josh and Matt will now move into new roles as making sure the administration of the contract is implemented in a smooth transition.”

Meanwhile, after discussion with J.K. Coward, Coward Hicks and Siler issued a letter to V1Fiber on behalf of the Town as a notification that liquidated damages would be calculated for the Fiber Deployment project effective Aug. 11, 2021. This is due to time overtures. Since that time, all construction items have been completed and the final inspection was performed successfully.

By Kim Lewicki, Highlands Newspaper

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