Bill would lift limit on phone network fee

City could reap millions from leasing conduits

June 13, 2000|By Gerard Shields | Gerard Shields,SUN STAFF

The city could reap millions in revenue from telecommunications companies that want to install computer cable beneath city streets, under legislation introduced last night in the City Council.

Hoping to cut into a $140 million budget shortfall projected over the next three years, Mayor Martin O'Malley requested the legislation, which removes a cap on the fee charged for access to city-owned conduits.

The annual lease fee -- now 22 cents a linear foot -- was first initiated in an agreement over a century ago, when telephone companies first began establishing an underground network in the city.

"We need to move into the 21st century," said Marilyn Harris-Davis, director of the Mayor's Office of Cable and Communications. "

Under the legislation, the Board of Estimates could set a new fee once the city's cap is lifted, Harris-Davis said. The city is still trying to determine how much new revenue a change could bring, but estimates are at least $2 million annually.

Many cities are now trying to cash in on the computer revolution by raising the rates for leasing conduits for the fiber-optics critical for the Internet. The national average for such fees is $1.50 a linear foot, with New York charging as much as $9 a foot.

Baltimore has 52 miles of conduit available for lease throughout the city, Harris-Davis said. Phone companies hold the rights to the network, she said. But at least five companies have expressed interest in obtaining city permission to tap into the conduits.

In other action:

The council gave final approval to a plan supported by the Hampden Village Merchants Association to create 27 city parking spaces on four properties in the 3600 block of Roland Ave.

The Baltimore Development Corp., the city's nonprofit economic development arm, wanted to develop the parcels and attracted interest from Royal Farms. But nearly 600 Hampden residents signed a petition to amend the area's urban renewal plan to keep the properties exclusively for "general public use," including the installation of parking meters.

The council also gave final approval to legislation that would prohibit the sale of body armor to minors. The bill was introduced in April by City Councilwoman Catherine E. Pugh, a West Baltimore Democrat, after police found a bulletproof vest on a 17-year-old shooting suspect accused of killing a city police officer in a car chase.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.