Fiber infrastructure: Next steps

One of the things I’m most proud of about Auburn is our progressiveness—and not just for the sake of being progressive, but progressiveness that’s purposeful and supported with sound business practices. Auburn’s fiber optic infrastructure is the perfect example of this. The first fiber cables – flexible transparent fibers made from glass and about as thick as a strand of hair – were laid by Auburn Electric in 1985. These fibers are able to transmit vast amounts of data from one location to another, and the city’s leaders at the time had the foresight to understand the capabilities this innovative cable would offer, including higher-speed communications and improved efficiencies of electric substations—not to mention better management of the demand for (and cost of) energy.

Today, 25 years later, we’ve laid fiber throughout 50 percent of our community and electric territory, creating a huge interconnected network of possibilities and value. With tremendous throughput capacity, this advanced technology currently allows us to monitor and manage the city’s electrical usage at the sub-stations, as well as provide Internet and phone service. In the near future, television programming and Smart Grid functions, (Details in a future blog) will be available to businesses and residents of Auburn. Generally, such an advanced network is only found in larger communities.

Even more, this infrastructure has been steadily constructed—and at zero debt. We’ve operated “lean and mean” as not to make a mistake that befalls too many cities across America: unnecessary debt. We’re proud of the fact that we’ve been wise with your ratepayer money.

Now, the time has come to finish construction. Demand is high and, given the number of services delivered via the network today, the sooner it’s completed, the more affordable each service becomes. The opposite is true as well. If we don’t complete it in the near future, we’re actually hampering our ability to build a large, long-term customer base—and maintain cost-effective quality services.

For this reason, we’ve decided to take on a modest loan in the amount of $4 million—a fraction of the original project total cost planned in 2005 ($18.65 million), I might add. With a financially sound budget and a solid cash flow – which will enable us to pay the loan back within a reasonable term – we determined the debt was smart from both a business and a community perspective.

We’ll be able to close this project up, meet customer demand, drive higher volumes for all AES services and, most of all, position us to compete in the global economy. All very progressive… and purposeful.