The Ashland Fiber Network's Internet rates will go up by 5 percent beginning Jan. 1.

The Ashland Fiber Network's Internet rates will go up 5 percent beginning Jan. 1.

The City Council unanimously approved the rate increase Tuesday night.

Prices are going up because of $70,000 worth of increased expenses for AFN for the budget year. The city budgeted a 3 percent increase for materials such as copper and other system components, but the cost of those is rising faster than the budgeted amount, said Interim Information Technology Director Michael Ainsworth.

The city-owned AFN sells wholesale Internet service that is then sold to customers by retailers like Ashland Home Net, InfoStructure, JEFFNET and Open Door Networks.

About 90 percent of customers buy AFN Gold service. Retailers are charging an average of $37 per month, although Computer Country is advertising service for the lowest amount at $32.99 per month.

The city's main competitor, Charter Communications, is charging $49.99 per month for a similar service.

AFN charges a wholesale rate of $26.45 per month for its Gold service. That will increase to $27.77 per month, or $1.32 more, Ainsworth said.

AFN last increased its rates for Gold level service in February 2005. Rates for Bronze, Silver and Platinum levels were set in February 2007. All the levels will be affected by the 5 percent wholesale price increase. AFN staff members expect retailers to pass on the price increase to their customers, he said.

"This is the first increase since 2005 for 90 percent of our customers," Ainsworth said.

Ainsworth has been serving as Interim Information Technology Director since Joe Franell, the former director, left in October to accept a job as general manager of Hermiston-based Eastern Oregon Telecom. Franell was hired to head AFN in 2006.

City Administrator Martha Bennett said she is waiting until the new mayor takes office in January to discuss the information technology director position. Planning Commissioner John Stromberg is the mayor-elect based on the results of Tuesday's election.

The city is moving forward on plans to find a replacement for Ashland Fire & Rescue Chief Keith Woodley, who is retiring in December.

On Tuesday, the City Council approved spending $25,000 to hire a recruitment firm to do a national search for a fire chief.

Meanwhile, the city recently learned it has been named a Smart 21 community by the international Intelligent Community Forum for the third year in a row because of AFN.

This year's communities range in size from 17,000 to 2.5 million and are located in North America, South America, Europe, Asia and Africa.

"Each of these communities has demonstrated a commitment to improving their communities through innovative broadband applications," said Louis Zacharilla, ICF co-founder. "The ingenuity of these communities is exemplified in their investments in the future of the young, the growth and progress of job creating businesses, and economic security. An overarching theme of the 2009 honorees has been the dedication to putting people first and building a 'talent inventory' that will thrive with technology and innovation."

The Smart 21 announcement is the first stage of the ICF's annual Intelligent Community Awards cycle. It is followed by the naming of the Top Seven Intelligent Communities of the Year, selected from among the Smart 21 on January 21, 2009 during the Pacific Telecommunications Council annual conference in Honolulu, Hawaii.

More information on each community is available at ICF's Web site www.intelligentcommunity.org/smart21.

The Smart 21 were selected from hundreds of candidates.

Staff writer Vickie Aldous can be reached at 479-8199 or vlaldous@yahoo.com. To post a comment, visit www.dailytidings.com.