Piedmont council, schools chief to meet with company on Internet service
by Laura Gaddy
lbgaddy@annistonstar.com
Jan 15, 2014 | 3108 views |  0 comments | 81 81 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Piedmont officials will meet Thursday to discuss a dispute about a payment used to supply wireless Internet access to about 750 students.

The Piedmont City Council plans a public work session to discuss the matter at 5 p.m. in its chambers on North Center Avenue. Representatives from the Wetumpka-based company that provides the Internet service, Information Transport Solutions, and Piedmont schools Superintendent Matt Akin also plan to attend.

“We can’t afford to move forward without some assistance,” Akin said.

The school system is asking the council to resume a $6,250 monthly payment to the schools to help pay for the service. In 2011 the council agreed to make the payment monthly for three years, but stopped sending the money in the fall of 2012.

Council members have been discussing the possibility of resuming the payment since school started in August, but have yet to make a decision.

“Everybody is coming around the table tomorrow,” Mayor Bill Baker said. “Hopefully we can come back at the next council meeting and make a decision. Either we are going to extend the contract, or we’re not.”

Some council members have said they don’t think the city can afford to help the schools pay for the service, but other city officials have said the city should resume the payments.

Councilman Frank Cobb, like Baker, said he is ready to act on the issue.

“I wish we would have already gone and gotten this issue out of the way,” Cobb said.

Wireless Internet service is an essential component of the school system’s technology program, Akin has said.

Through the program, the schools have issued laptop computers to students in grades four through 12, educators have adopted new teaching techniques, and the system has received national recognition and procured several grants.

The program was strengthened in 2011 when the Federal Communications Commission awarded Piedmont schools an $867,000 grant to establish a wireless Internet network throughout the city for students’ laptops.

Information Transport Solutions signed on to do the work, and agreed to pay the city $6,500 to use city cables for the project. At about the same time, the council agreed to provide the schools with the $6,250 payment to help the system pay the company $30,000 per month for the Internet connection.

For about a year, the bulk of that $30,000 payment was made with grant funds, but the grant ran out and the city stopped making its payments to the schools.

Akin said the school system now pays the entire cost for students’ wireless access, at a lower rate of $20,500 per month that it negotiated. Most of that money, $14,250, goes to Information Transport Solutions, and the remainder is paid to Verizon Wireless for students who must access the Internet through cellular networks because they live too far from the center of town.

The schools discontinued the service for a short time in the summer but resumed it this fall when school started.

Staff writer Laura Gaddy: 256-235-3544. On Twitter @LGaddy_Star.

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