SARATOGA SPRINGS — City businesses and residents could soon have optical fiber-based internet, after the City Council approved a contract with SiFi Networks at its Tuesday meeting.
Fiber optic internet boasts faster download and upload speeds than cable.
Commissioner of Finance Michele Madigan spearheaded the agreement between the city and the Morristown, New Jersey-based network developer, which would design, install and maintain the network.
"I've spent several years working to improve the city's technology infrastructure — specifically expanding the reach, quality and market for broadband access for all city residents and businesses," Madigan said to attendees of Tuesday's meeting. "Improving connectivity will allow existing businesses more capabilities than previously thought possible, while also enticing businesses of the future to thrive here in Saratoga Springs.
"For residents, this will provide a more competitive broadband market with exceptionally fast access for all of their online needs."
The city has entered into a 30-year agreement, with the option to renew for an additional 30 years.
Madigan said the city would receive 0.5 percent of SiFi Network's gross revenue derived from the system, if the contract is renewed after the initial 30 years. That payment would be made quarterly.
She said the city would not be paying anything directly to SiFi Networks, as the company is responsible for building and installing the fiber optic cable.
SiFi Networks is also going to pay $45,000 to the city annually for a Department of Public Works employee to serve as the contact person between the city and the company.
"We did feel that we needed point of contact, because this is a huge project," Madigan said. "They'll contribute 50 percent of that salary."
Department of Public Works Commissioner Anthony "Skip" Scirocco said the employee who will be the liaison between the city and SiFi Networks would likely be a member of the engineering staff.
He said many of the details of the project are still being determined.
“The largest impact during the construction phase will be on the engineering department, due to the permit approval process," Scirocco said. "It’s important that what goes in the city right of way is constructed properly."
SiFi Networks, according to Madigan, was the only company to respond to the city's December request for proposals for the Broadband Infrastructure Project.
The company partners with cities through its FiberCity program to create fiber optic networks.
"A SiFi Networks’ FiberCity is created once a fiber optic network has been designed, built and funded with service providers delivering gigabit internet connectivity throughout the community," according to statement on SiFi Networks' website. "Through our collaborative approach with the city, we can structure deals where they can ultimately own their own fiber network at the end of the agreement."
The company has a fiber optic network in Fullerton, California, and in Louisville, Kentucky, according to its website.
A call to SiFi Networks was not returned as of Wednesday.
Saratoga County Chamber of Commerce President Todd Shimkus said he is glad the city has taken the lead on installing a fiber optic network.
"Tech folks in particular and larger companies need significant bandwidth, such as the school district, Skidmore College and Saratoga Hospital," he said. "Right now, the level of service you can obtain depends on where you're located in the city, so having faster, more reliable service will make it easier for businesses to get the high-speed bandwidth they're looking for."
Shimkus said some local businesses have spent "considerable funds" to extend lines or purchase the type of internet speed they need.
"Hopefully, this makes it less costly for businesses," he said of the city's agreement with SiFi Networks.
Madigan has determined to get Saratoga Springs designated as a "smart city." In February 2016, she announced a 12-member "Smart City Commission" to develop a plan to improve connectivity.
In October 2016, Madigan unveiled the "Smart Cities Roadmap 1.0" to outline plans to upgrade publicly available broadband and increase use of technology in medicine, public safety and education.
"Once it's there, it'll be here a century from now," she said of a fiber optic network. "Right now, there's just Spectrum or Charter Communications, so this will give people more options."
Madigan said she anticipates the design of the system would begin this year, and construction would take two years to complete.