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Posted: 07/23/14

Final offer put on table
by Solvaris for Internet

Observer Staff Writer
      Bruce Township has received what could be the last offer from a local Internet provider.
       Following an exchange during the Board of Trustees' July 16 meeting, township officials and Solvaris are coming together for what could be one final time to establish Internet services for residents.
       Solvaris gained approval last month from the board to have its Internet tower, located on township property at 36 Mile and Hipp roads, stand at 200 feet, up from the township's limit of 175 feet.
       The agreement, however, was also amended to say that fees would be charged when companies co-locate on the tower. No amounts were listed in the agreement.
       Matt Lauer, Bruce Township resident and owner of Solvaris, said the end game has always been a 200-foot tower to provide the widest range of coverage. However, he said after 16 months of working with the township, he had one last offer to propose.
       Previously, the township and Lauer agreed to his providing two Wi-Fi hotspots in exchange for the removal of co-location fees from the agreement. The fees were listed at $400 a month for Internet co-locators and $1,000 a month for cellular or cable services.
       Lauer is proposing the elimination of the hotspots, a set fee of $150 for any future co-locators and reducing the rent escalator from 5 percent to 2.5 percent.
       "This township should not be in the business of making a profit, especially off the back of a local business who is simply trying to do something good for this community," he said.
       He suggested a special meeting be held so the township could discuss the matter prior to the end of the month.
       "If you decide not to accept the proposal that I've offered, I will cut my losses," he said. "I will keep the tower at 175 feet and provide Internet coverage to a very limited amount of residents, cost permitting."
       He said this would go against the township's master plan for providing services, but added it is not up to him to make sure the plan is followed, but the township.
       "It'll be your legacy, not mine," he said. "You will discourage all future investment in this township, and give potential buyers a reason not to settle in Bruce due to the lack of affordable Internet options."
       Conversely, he said if the offer is accepted, the township would bring the matter to an end and obtain the goal of providing high-speed Internet services.
       Supervisor Richard Cory said he met with Lauer and discussed the offer on July 10, and has asked the township's attorney to try and move away from the current agreement.
       Cory said the next step in the process will be to have the attorneys from each side meet to hammer out an agreement that works for both parties.
       "(Lauer) is trying to make a business decision and we're trying to do what's best for the township," he said after the meeting. "I think we're close."
       Clerk Susan Brockmann said the proposal from Solvaris was news to her, but the township has to consider its attorney's decisions on the matter.
       "We signed the lease, he didn't sign the one that we all agreed on," she said after the meeting.
       Treasurer Deborah Obrecht disagreed with charging Solvaris large fees, saying the idea is to make Internet services as affordable as possible.
       "My opinion is the more you charge it's going to be passed onto the residents," she said.
       Obrecht has worked on bringing Internet to the township since 2004. In October 2011, a contract with Air Advantage became null and void, which Obrecht attributed to the township asking for more money for the company to install equipment.
       "If this was so lucrative, why, in all of these years, have we not had people knocking on our door to try and provide this service," she said.
       Officials said AT&T has an easement on township property for DSL services that has no fees associated to it. Obrecht said according to legal counsel the township could've charged AT&T.
       Residents spoke against the township's actions regarding the lease agreement. Trese Servitto-Smith said she believes the township's open-ended co-location fees are "just short of extortion."
       "This board seems to be demanding a portion of what Solvaris charges for the potential co-location fees if Solvaris wants the height increased," she said.
       Michelle Schuchard said the township should only change the height in the lease agreement to 200 feet instead of including it with the co-location fees.
       "To sit there and change the wording of it, I think, is a little underhanded," she said. "Enough is enough, we want our Internet."

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