At Monday's City Commission meeting, Commissioners provided City Staff with policy direction on allowing access to the utility easement area for fiber, utility and other service providers.
The City of Salina has both Right of Way (ROW) and Utility Easements (UE) that are available for use by public utility providers for the vast majority of homes and other dwellings located within the city. The ROW is associated with public streets and is typically located in the front of the dwelling and the utility easement is generally located in the rear or side yards of the dwelling. A ROW is the legal right to pass along a specific route through property belonging to another and their typical width on a residential street is 60ft with 33ft being paving. This leaves about 13.5 feet on both sides of the road for the ROW. The City of Salina maintains a ROW for homes in the front yard for sidewalk installation and other purposes. Additionally, a utility easement is provided generally at the rear or sides of dwellings to allow utility service providers access to land to install utility services and to maintain those utility services. Utility easements are typically 14 or 20 feet in width. The City of Salina has allowed utility service providers that include gas, electrical, cable and phone service providers to access the utility easement area.
These utility service providers have been subject to paying a fee under a franchise agreement with the City of Salina. However, the City of Salina can only collect a franchise fee for what has been defined as for "telecommunication purposes" in addition to the traditional gas and electrical service. These "telecommunication purposes" include traditional phone and cable services. The City is not able to collect a franchise fee for any data service that is installed.
Currently, there are fiber companies installing fiber in the City of Salina that are not subject to a franchise fee. One example of such a company is Clearwave that has been and is planning to install fiber throughout the city. Additionally, there are other fiber providers that due to the services they currently provide are subject to a franchise fee because they are providing services that meet the definition of "telecommunication purposes". These companies have had access to the public utility easement as a franchisee. One example of this is Nex-Tech that is interested in providing new data service in the city. Additionally, Cox is utilizing the utility easement to install fiber in newly built homes in the City of Salina.
Now, some of these companies who are currently paying a franchise fee are interested in providing data services that are not subject to a franchise fee. Nex-Tech currently has access to the rear public utility easements and they would like to install fiber in the rear or sides of homes via the public utility easement. Companies that are not subject to a franchise agreement such as Clearwave have only been installing fiber through the ROW that is primarily located in the front of dwellings. If the City Commission provides policy guidance to allow access to the utility easement for non-franchisee fiber providers-the Clearwave agreement will be modified to also allow access to the utility easement. Allowing access to the public utility easement-whether they are a franchisee or not-would put all fiber providers on an equal footing.
There are benefits to both the City of Salina, residents and fiber companies if the fiber is allowed to be installed through either the ROW or the public utility easement. For example, if fiber is laid in the rear utility easement it may be possible to service two sets of homes from a single strand of fiber in their rear yards, rather than an installation in the ROW in front yards serving half as many homes. This would decrease the number of locates that are required to be done by City staff and would promote faster installation of fiber throughout the city. Nex-Tech is already able to install fiber in the utility easement area as a franchisee and allowing them and other fiber installation companies to utilize the public easement area would place them all on an equal footing and establish a competitively neutral setting. However, any company installing fiber in the public utility easement area would still be liable for any damages they would cause if they were to damage infrastructure in the public utility easement area. Additionally, allowing access to the public utility easement could also potentially minimize disruption to some homeowners if they are able to have fiber installed through the utility easement it would not require disruption of their front yard if only the ROW was allowed for fiber installation.
Staff is looking for a policy direction from the City Commission to be utilized in negotiations with other providers in the future. The following Nex-Tech agenda item allows access to both the ROW and the utility easement.
Because these companies are planning to install services that are not subject to a franchise fee, there is minimal fiscal impact. There potentially could be some savings earned by allowing access to the public utility easement if it were to limit the number of locates that are required to be performed by city staff.
The motion to provide Provide policy direction in support of allowing fiber installation in either the Public Right of Way or the Public Utility Easement was approved 5-0.