Skokie village board members had many unanswered questions after AT&T execs pitched their U-Verse service to the village, and the board kicked the matter back to staff to work out further details with AT&T.
In introducing the subject, Village Manager Al Rigoni noted RCN and Comcast already serve Skokie; adding AT&T would make for a third choice. He noted AT&T would have to place utility boxes called VRADs for its equipment on various parkways throughout Skokie, but would camouflage them with landscaping.
The major issue staff discovered is that even after AT&T built out its service in Skokie after two years, Rigoni said, there would be large areas of Skokie without access to U-Verse service.
Even after Jim Maurer, AT&T vice president for external affairs in Illinois, made a presentation and answered questions, that issue continued to be a sticking point for village trustees.
What U-Vers offers
He described U-verse as a next generation communications network, with all digital television that allows customers to record up to four shows at once, and also allows them to watch TV on a smartphone or tablet when they're away from home.
It also offers fast Internet speeds of 75 to 100 megabits per second, while the fastest now offered are about 24 mps, he said.
"People love it," he commented, adding JD Power & Associates rated its service second, behind Wide Open West.
The Skokie Chamber of Commerce and Dempster Street Merchants Association support U-Verse, he said, and predicted it could create jobs and economic opportunity for Skokie.
Only 50 percent of Skokie area would have access to U-Verse
AT&T provides U-Verse service to about 300 municipalities, including Evanston, Maurer said, but technical limitations on distance make it difficult to achieve 100 percent coverage of Skokie.
He noted his company would also need to sign up customers, possibly winning them from its competitors, and said it would be unreasonable to require AT&T to build out to 100 percent coverage when it hasn't signed up any customers yet.
And then there's Netflix and Hulu
A 2007 Illinois law also made it possible for video providers to enter a market without providing service to the entire municipality, he said.
He also observed that a growing number of people are watching TV on the Internet via service like Netflix, Hulu and the coming Apple TV and Google Chromecast.
"Unike these providers, we’re here to invest in Skokie," he said.
So why can't all of Skokie have U-Verse service?
Trustees Edie Sue Sutker, Michele Bromberg and Ralph Klein questioned Maurer and Karl Wardin, AT&T regional director for regulatory, trying to nail them down on why AT&T couldn't provide service for the whole village, without getting any promises of 100 percent coverage. Maurer said that if business was going well after two years, AT&T "would be crazy" not to build out further, but did not make a commitment.
"We all represent the entire village. What do we say to the other half?" Trustee Klein asked. "I have to tell half my constituents you can’t have AT&T?"
Back to the drawing board
Shortly after that, Trustee Sutker summed up the situation, saying, "I have some real concerns about this proposal. I’m not happy with the size and appearance of the (VRAD) boxes, I’m concerned about where they're going to be located.
"...What mostly concerns me is the exclusion of certain areas of Skokie...and you just said you have no obligation to provide service to lower income areas. ...The way I look at your map, you’re excluding some businesses on Dempster, and ... I feel like there’s a vagueness to what you’re going to provide for us."
She made a motion to send the matter back to the village staff and attorney so they could refine the proposal and make it more concrete. The board approved the motion unanimously.
'I think we're close'
Trustee Roberts ended the discussion on a note of encouragement for the AT&T executives, saying he thought the service could be of real value for the community, especially for low income residents who are trying to make their lives better.
"I think we’re close," he said. " I value your service, I think it’s a great service.
"I’m wiling to take a little heat on the boxes because I value the service."