Consultant pitches idea for telcom upgrades

A consulting firm has proposed to help Altoona market its utility poles, light standards, traffic signals and other infrastructure to telecommunications companies, so they develop better broadband and wireless services here — helping to draw businesses that need such services, providing better connections for residents and earning the city rental fees, which could go toward a city-owned fiber network.

City Council members who heard the presentation from a representative of SmartWorks Partners of Louisville, Ky., at a work session Monday showed interest but didn’t commit.

The company would map, lease and manage the city’s “vertical assets,” identify broadband service gaps, modernize ordinances relating to telecom installations, track legislative changes that affect municipal dealings with telecom firms and help the city deploy the fiber network, according to a company handout and its Marketing Director Dave George.

Such help is needed by municipalities to take full advantage of telecom firms’ plans to develop 5G wireless networks, which will “dominate the future broadband landscape,” and require “significantly more antenna locations, spaced closer together, to deliver an anticipated 20 gigabit per second wireless coverage,” according to the handout from the company, which made the presentation on the invitation of Mayor Matt Pacifico.

There would be no initial charge, but the firm would take a 60 percent share of revenue generated by the changes it would make, until its estimated $147,000 initial investment is paid off, at which point the percentages would reverse and the city would get 60 percent, George said.

After 10 years, there would be a shift such that the city would get 65 percent, he said.

Would the city need to advertise for proposals for telecom consulting before it committing to SmartWorks, asked Councilman Bruce Kelley.

Maybe not, if such consulting is considered a professional service, said City Manager Marla Marcinko.

Solicitor Krystal Edwards said she could check on it.

It’s important for municipalities’ telecom future to track legislation for developments like a current State House proposal that would restrict the ability of municipalities to realize income from vertical asset rentals, George said.

That proposal is unlikely to pass, however, George said.

Among the advantages of signing a deal with SmartWorks would be the revision of zoning and other ordinances that restrict telecom access to vertical structures, according to George.

The marketing offered by the firm would be key, according to Pacifico.

“It will let (telecom) providers know the city is open for business,” he said.

Signing with the company could help fix problem spots downtown, where higher buildings diminish cell phone service to “one bar,” Pacifico said.

SmartWorks’ services could lead to benefits like a public Wi-Fi network downtown and a robust-enough system to support autonomous vehicles and “smart” streetlights,” for example, officials said.

After the meeting, Councilman Dave Butter­baugh said, “I’m still mulling it over.”

He’s OK with the firm’s demand for 60 percent of revenue until it recoups its initial investment, but “40-60 on the back end seems a little steep,” he said.

Mirror Staff Writer William Kibler is at 949-7038.