Citing high initial cost, Grosse Pointe Shores tables Rocket Fiber proposal

By: K. Michelle Moran | Grosse Pointe Times | Published July 29, 2018

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SHORES — Although they didn’t technically turn it down, Grosse Pointe Shores officials did, in essence, say no to a proposed intergovernmental agreement with their neighbors and the school district that would have brought high-speed fiber optic data services to the community.

Following the recommendation of the city’s Finance Committee, the Shores City Council on July 17 voted unanimously to “indefinitely” table a proposed agreement with the other cities to pay for a fiber ring that would be built by Detroit-based fiber optic data provider Rocket Fiber.

“We’ve spent a lot of time looking at the details, and for the $200,000 it would cost us, we’re recommending that we not pursue (the agreement),” said City Councilman Bruce Bisballe, chair of the Finance Committee. “It’s too much money for what our residents are going to see (as benefits).”

The cost for the Shores to have two laterals, become part of the consortium and also connect to shared rings to Wayne State University and Macomb Community College — which the other Pointes are also slated to do — would have been $265,176, according to the agreement. 

Proponents of the Rocket Fiber proposal have said that it would save the cities money over the long term on data costs such as internet, as well as attract new, young residents and businesses. The Shores is the only municipality in the consortium that doesn’t have any businesses, although it is home to two nonprofits: the Grosse Pointe Yacht Club and the Edsel and Eleanor Ford House. Rocket Fiber officials had said that the cities could recoup some of their costs by allowing nonprofits like churches and private schools to piggyback on the cities’ fiber network; the nonprofits would pay the cities to do so.

Bisballe said fiber optic data service is already available to Shores residents via AT&T and Wide Open West, and noted that the Shores is facing “other budgetary pressures” from rising retiree health care costs and sewer system work. 

“We thought it was prudent to say no,” Bisballe said.

Rocket Fiber representatives have said their service is one of the fastest in the nation, and they’ve said it’s quicker and more reliable than many other available data providers.

Spearheaded by the Grosse Pointe Public School System, the five Grosse Pointes, Harper Woods and the Grosse Pointe Public Library have been considering a proposal from Rocket Fiber to build a network in the Pointes and Harper Woods. A consortium consisting of the governmental entities would own their own fiber connections, and Rocket Fiber would install its own fiber at the same time to offer high-speed data services to residents and businesses in the Pointes. Rocket Fiber has offered to provide 20 years of maintenance along with the fiber connections, but the cities are still facing steep costs to build the network.

According to the Quicken Loans website, Rocket Fiber is a “fiber optic Internet provider that’s bringing rocket-speed gigabit Internet and HDTV to the city” and is “100 times faster than the average residential (internet) connection.” Rocket Fiber was founded in 2014 and is part of the Rock Ventures and Quicken Loans family of companies.

Although the decisions of cities like Grosse Pointe Park and Grosse Pointe City to sign the Rocket Fiber agreement were contingent on all of the other cities signing on as well, GPPSS Superintendent Gary Niehaus said the Shores decision doesn’t kill the Rocket Fiber deal.

“The intergovernmental agreement is asking for participation and can be amended to have only seven community partners,” Niehaus said by email.

He noted that there were originally only seven partners — the five Grosse Pointes, GPPSS and Harper Woods. Since then, the Grosse Pointe Public Library has also expressed an interest in being one of the community partners.

“The main difference (with the loss of the Shores) is the cost of the 14-mile ring,” Niehaus said in an email.  “We (had been dividing) the costs among the eight community partners. If we have less, then we would all have to pay more for our share of the ring.  You can divide (the base ring cost of) $900,000 by eight or seven or six.”

He said the councils of Grosse Pointe Farms and Woods, as well as the GPPL Board, all have meetings coming up at which they’re expected to vote on the intergovernmental agreement.