Westerville city leaders are considering plans that could soon make telecommunications and data services available to residents and businesses on a more competitive basis.

Westerville city leaders are considering plans that could soon make telecommunications and data services available to residents and businesses on a more competitive basis.

The plan, called WeConnect, calls for expanding the city's broadband digital corridor, including the addition of a community data center.

"We're really excited about it," said Assistant City Manager Julie Colley. "We're interested in providing services to all of our businesses and we have a number of small businesses that don't have access to the bandwidth or to other sources that could help them grow their business."

As part of the project, fiber-optic cable would be buried underground, connecting the southern business districts of the city (Eastwind, Brooksedge and South State) with the northern section (Westar and the Westerville Commerce Center).

The connection would also provide northwest and southern access points to the Columbus Fibernet Network (CFN), according to staff reports. The CFN is a network of communications conduit and fiber-optic cable that has been extended throughout central Ohio. It is capable of providing access to multiple business districts and the Ohio Super Computer Network.

Total costs for the project are estimated at $2.46-million, according to City Manager David Collinsworth.

An initial cash infusion of $1.5-million total for the project would come from the city's general fund, tax-increment financing, the water enterprise fund, electric enterprise fund and cable television special revenue fund. A Westerville broadband enterprise fund will ultimately need to be established, setting the services on par with the city's other utilities.

"This would not be reliant upon tax sources for its operations, except possibly for some startup capital," Collinsworth said. "The ongoing operations would be supported through user fees, much like our water and sewer services."

Colley said such a system would make Westerville more attractive from an economic development standpoint.

"There are areas of town that are still operating off of T-1 lines and don't have access to the high-speed capabilities that could make their business potential just explode," she said. "Business owners would then have a choice of service providers and they would also have access to services such as data recovery that they otherwise might not be able to afford."

Collinsworth said enhancing the city's broadband corridor would also offer applications in public safety and the city's other utility providers.

"We're already experimenting with closed-circuit television capability to monitor some of our facilities," he said. "I think, depending on how the system is developed, there may be the potential for our public safety fleet to download and transmit data straight from a cruiser, through the fiber optics network and to the communications center."

For utilities, Collinsworth said the system could provide automated meter reading for water customers and load management for the electric division, with a goal of reducing energy consumption by 2 percent in 2012.

Councilman Craig Treneff said that since voters approved Issue 54 last year, the money is available for the program, but he would like to see more specific figures before approving the project.

"There's a lot of interest in expanding that conduit, but I still think there's a fair amount of work to be done on the estimates with the data center," he said.

Colley said she doesn't expect that the city would operate the data center, but that it would contract with a private entity for management. This center would manage the city's systems, Colley said.

"The facility itself wouldn't be an income generator for the city, but it could generate additional jobs through the connection it offers our residents," she said.

Collinsworth said the city's goal is to have a decision from city council on the plan before it goes on recess in July. Plans for the data center would be detailed this fall, Colley said.

lrice@thisweeknews.com