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Savannah seeking faster, expanded wireless network

As the city develops plans for improving public safety and spurring economic development, officials say there is a need to evaluate Savannah’s high-speed Internet capabilities as well.

“The reality is a lot of our city is not connected right now,” said Bret Bell, city spokesman.

Improving connectivity by expanding the city’s fiber-optic network will make it possible to add more security cameras and get the most out of high-tech devices such as mobile computers used by Savannah-Chatham police, according to officials.

At the same time, the business community has been advocating for the city to take a more active role in boosting broadband services to better serve local entrepreneurs and attract commercial investment.

Ruel Joyner, a board member and former president of the Savannah Downtown Business Association, said the services being offered downtown are slow and expensive compared to other cities.

“We’re looking to compete with other metropolitan areas,” Joyner said. “But we’ve been stuck in the stone ages with the amount of broadband we have.”

Improved wireless infrastructure is not just needed downtown, officials say. The city also hopes to foster business investment in Savannah’s more impoverished areas such as Waters Avenue and the proposed Canal District west of the Historic District where a new arena is expected to be built.

A study being considered Thursday by the Savannah City Council would look at ways to expand the broadband network capabilities throughout the city, said Sean Brandon, Management Services bureau chief. 
The city is not likely to become an internet service provider itself, but public investments could be made to make the area more attractive for private providers, Brandon said.

At least one provider said it is already taking steps to boost service locally.

In early March, Comcast Business announced plans to build a multi-million dollar fiber optic network in Savannah that would deliver the fastest internet speeds to businesses in the state beginning in the third quarter of 2016.

Spokesman Alex Horwitz said in an email Tuesday that the company is ahead of schedule and already has started bringing on major customers in the city.

The planned network serves certain parts of Savannah but will also extend across the entire metro area, Horwitz said.

The city’s proposed $65,200 contract with Magellan Advisors is being recommended after the consultant submitted the lowest of four bids to conduct the broadband study, coming in $52,300 less than the next highest proposal.

Brandon said city officials had some initial concerns about the difference in prices, but the company’s qualifications and experience were high, and the firm had excellent references. The cost was also lower because the firm did not include as many design and engineering costs, which will not be needed until the city determines what type of broadband model to implement, he said.

The contract will go before the council after an expected presentation by Savannah-Chatham Police Chief Joseph Lumpkin. During that workshop, Lumpkin is expected to discuss a list of department needs he recently submitted, which included $1.3 million for new surveillance cameras.

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