The St. Paul City Council formally gave the go-ahead Wednesday for negotiations with Ramsey County that will determine how to lay out and pay for a public-private fiber-optic network.

The plan is for the county and city to operate the $14 million government side of the network and Minnesota Fiber Exchange (MFE) to run the private half. The two will split construction costs, but existing cable companies aren't thrilled with the idea of the city and county subsidizing a competitor. The council unanimously approved the action without discussion.

County and city leaders say a new network will give them long-term control over costs and services. Public officials say they need the network for intergovernmental communications and that it made sense to partner with a private company to share costs of laying the fiber.

The city's Franchise Renewal Committee endorsed getting into the business with the county.

St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman isn't participating in the discussions because his brother Emmett Coleman is vice president for public affairs at Comcast.

Deputy Mayor Paul Williams said the city needs to overhaul its communications system because it's shaky and outdated.

Fiber-optic cables transmit information by sending pulses of light through thin strands of glass. Fiber is 17,000 times faster than dial-up systems.

ROCHELLE OLSON