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Commission to consider new wireless internet option
I-Internet provider pic 1
Paladin Wireless President Steve Fortman presents the board of commissioners with a proposal to bring his companys internet services to Dawsonville, starting with installing antennae, like the one pictured, on top of the Dawson County Government Center. - photo by Allie Dean Dawson County News

The board of commissioners is expected to vote Thursday on a proposal from Paladin Wireless, a small company out of Royston that wishes to put two of their antennae on top of the Dawson County Government Center.

District 2 Commissioner Chris Gaines facilitated the proposal as part of his efforts to bring more wireless internet access and better connectivity to the citizens of Dawson County.

"One of the things that I've heard continually from citizens is the lack of options and issues that they've experienced with their internet provider," Gaines said. "As a lot of people know, we do have Windstream here in the area and we have North Georgia Network here in the area. Over the last year I've had a passion to come up with another option, an option that's focused on residents."

Paladin founder and spokesman Steve Fortmann presented his business proposal to the board on Feb. 9 during their regular work session, telling the commission that the antennae would allow for up to 600 homes in the area to have access to fast, reliable internet.

Fortmann said that his business would like to begin serving the citizens of Dawson County by installing their first antennae on top of the courthouse, and provided a proposal and a sample lease agreement for the commissioners to consider.

Under the terms of the proposed lease, the commission would allow Paladin to install two antennas on top of the courthouse. Paladin would pay $100 a month to rent the space, and would provide the courthouse 50MB of dedicated bandwidth at no cost, along with 10 static Ip addresses for the duration of the agreement.

Citizens within a five-mile radius of the courthouse would then be able to sign up for wireless internet with Paladin. According to Fortmann, between 400 and 600 homes in and around downtown Dawsonville could have internet broadcast straight to them if the antennae were installed on top of the courthouse.

The internet cannot be broadcast through mountains, however, so Paladin would need to install several access points for more people to be able to utilize the wireless service.

This would be the first launch of a plan to bring coverage to 74 square miles of the county, which Fortmann said could be done by seeking a similar lease agreement with Etowah Water for use of their communication and water towers.

Fortmann said that one of the best things about this type of internet service is the speed at which it can be installed.

"The best news is that it would be 60 to 90 days until this is actually in customer number one's house," Fortmann said. "Not six months, not a year, not two years, not millions of dollars. I've got radios at my shops, and if they gave me access to the roof I'd take this antenna up there right now."

Paladin has a $199 installation fee, and three levels of service for customers to choose from. There are no contracts and no data caps, Fortmann said.

After Fortmann's presentation, the commission had a lot of questions about the logistics of having antennas on top of the courthouse.

District 3 Commissioner Jimmy Hamby read from a list of questions, stating he had concerns about access to the secured buildings for Paladin after hours and on weekends, who would pay for the time county employees would have to accompany them to install the antennas or to provide maintenance, if Paladin would be infringing on the county's NGN fiber service and about the precedence that having the antennas would set.

The security of the building and the accessibility of fiber from North Georgia Network were two things that Fortmann said made the courthouse an attractive first location.

He explained that any issues with the security of the building and paying for county employee time could be decided in the lease, and that Paladin was willing to work with them on that.

Paladin would also cut their own NGN circuit, so they would not be using the county's fiber. As for a precedence set by allowing a private company to use a taxpayer funded building for their services, no one could argue that a precedence wouldn't be set.

"You would be in a position to determine what is fair, but in terms of what's legal, I don't think you're required to give it to everybody," said County Attorney Lynn Frey. "You'd have a hard time explaining it, but legally you could do it."

District 1 Commissioner Sharon Fausett had concerns about liability, should Paladin employees have to provide maintenance to the antennas on the roof.

According to Fortmann, physical maintenance of the antennas is seldom necessary after installation, and mainly is managed through cloud services. He also said that Paladin has certified climbers who are in charge of installing their antennas.

Fausett also said that she felt rushed due to the urgent nature in which Paladin presented their offer to her during a meeting.

Formann said that indeed if the commission did not approve the courthouse proposal, Paladin would move on and invest the money in another county that was ready to accept the services.

"I can't just hold on to investor money, I have to take it," Fortmann said. "We do what we call friends and family financing. There are so many different sites that we can invest into, If we don't get this one on the books it could be eight, nine, 10 or 11 months before we come back up here. I'm not trying to pressure you, that's just the long and short of it."

District 4 Commissioner Julie Hughes Nix asked why NGN could not be delivering the same services as Paladin to the citizens of Dawson County currently.

Though representatives from NGN did not speak to that, Gaines explained that NGN caters more to businesses than residences.

"In my interactions and research that I've done, Paladin has been more responsive to the residential side," Gaines said. "NGN is doing some great things, especially down at Ga. 400 when it comes to high-volume business capacities, and I think that's great ... I'm trying to look out for the citizens, and to me Paladin has shown that their desire is to serve citizens locally."

After answering the commission's questions, Fortmann restated why he was proposing the courthouse plan for Dawson County in the first place.

"We don't ever go anywhere unless somebody asks us," Fortmann said. "I've got 467 people that have asked me from Dawson County, and said ‘Steve, Paladin, will you please come up here and help us with our internet?' That's how we get to the places that we go. Somebody asks us. I didn't come up here and say I wanted to sell you guys internet. I was invited, I was asked."

Gaines said on Tuesday that he has spent over a year researching carriers and options and believes that Paladin is the most viable option that he has found so far.

"I nor anyone I know is tied to or has any financial investment or business interest in this carrier or any other carrier," Gaines added. "I am simply trying to find solutions, so I welcome any suggestions or viable options people can bring to the table that will benefit Dawson County."

The board on Thursday could vote to table the proposal, vote to enter into a contract with Paladin or vote not to enter into any agreement with them. The voting session will be held at 6 p.m. in the second floor assembly room of the Dawson County Government Center at 25 Justice Way.