Holcomb: State won’t seek new bidder to replace failed Agile cell tower deal

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Gov. Eric Holcomb said Friday the state does not plan to send out another request for proposals on a plan to lease the state’s cell tower infrastructure to raise money for a new archives building and other projects.

The announcement follows his decision earlier this year to scrap a lease deal struck by former Gov. Mike Pence with Agile Technologies.

Instead, Holcomb said, the state “will look for ways to individually lease cell towers” to telecommunications providers. He said that could bring in future revenue to the state.

However, dropping the larger plan means the state won't receive the big influx of cash the Pence administration had expected to receive under the Agile deal—meaning that a planned state archives building likely won’t be funded for at least another few years.

“That is a worthy project that needs to be completed,” Holcomb said. “That will have to be for another day.”

Holcomb announced in February that the Indiana Finance Authority had terminated contract discussions with Ohio-based Agile Networks, which had struck a tentative deal with the state. The Pence administration last September said it had agreed to lease the state's existing cell towers to Agile for as much as $260 million over the next 50 years, which would help the state fund its bicentennial projects and expand broadband capacity.

The state fronted the money for several of the other bicentennial projects and will now be forced to pay for them in another way. But the archives project never got underway. 

The state has a few different ideas for approaching its new cell tower strategy, said Micah Vincent, director of the Office of Management and Budget.

It can do deals to lease some or all of the 341state-owned communication towers, it can lease state land for a company to build new towers, or it can lease space on some of the state’s vertical structures to attach small cell deployments or other infrastructure.

“What we found out when we went through this project before is that there is a market,” Vincent said. “We haven’t really gone out and proactively marketed."

Vincent said the benefit of doing individual deals is that the state would be “better able to control those assets and capture the revenue.”

But he acknowledged "It does change the dynamics of that financial structure” in that piecemealing the deal would not create a large, lump-sum payment.

“If we can proactively get better at marketing these assets, over the long run it will be better for the state,” Vincent said.

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