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Fiber-optic amendment could limit positive impact of Prairie Dog bill, city leaders say

Grand Forks City Hall Sam Easter / Grand Forks Herald

After amendments were made on Wednesday to a bill that would provide infrastructure funding to non-oil-producing governments in eastern North Dakota, city officials from Grand Forks say one update will limit the positive impact such funding could have locally.

Changes made to House Bill 1066, so-dubbed the "Prairie Dog bill" by legislators, include a provision to prohibit local governments from using the proposal's funding for the installation of fiber-optic infrastructure.

Blake Crosby, executive director of the North Dakota League of Cities, said during a conference call with cities on Friday he didn't know who made that change.

If it was an industry request — internet and cable companies offer fiber-optic services to consumers across North Dakota — City Administrator Todd Feland said on Friday Grand Forks is not trying to steal anyone's customers.

"It's really just connecting our systems, whether they're public works or safety," Feland said. "We're not using it as a competitive fiber-optic system. ... Really, it's more of an internal way for us to better wire our systems together and communicate among all the different assets that we have."

Feland said more than a majority of the city's facilities are connected via fiber-optic infrastructure by now, although the city has not completely transitioned all of its communication infrastructure yet.

"What we've found is with fiber-optic, it's just more reliable and faster and (there's) less downtime" compared to wireless service, Feland said.

The city currently funds fiber-optic projects depending on the facilities they connect.

"If it was relating to street signals, it would be our street infrastructure funds," Feland said. "If it would be water-related facilities, it would be water fund, so it depends on what we were hooking up."

The city of Grand Forks and other cities the League represents have spent the session lauding the positive impact HB 1066 would on essential infrastructure needs across the eastern side of the state.

With Grand Forks using more fiber-optic services than ever, Feland said the bill will have less of a positive local impact if it excludes that category of infrastructure.

The bill was still sitting in the House Appropriations Committee on Friday, where it was referred after the amendments were adopted on Wednesday.

"I do not anticipate the bill being passed over to the Senate until just one or two days before the crossover," Crosby told the cities, referring to the time period when the House sends all of its approved bills to the Senate for approval and vice versa.

Emily Allen

Allen joined the Grand Forks Herald to cover local government and politics May 2018. Call her at 701-780-1102, email her at eallen@gfherald.com or follow her on Twitter, @Emily_theHerald.

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