FARMINGTON — City officials may be one step closer to bringing faster Internet access to Farmington and its surrounding communities.

City Council will vote Tuesday morning whether to approve a lease document enabling third-party Internet services providers to utilize nearly 80 miles of unused fiber optic cables crisscrossing the area.

Council approval will not guarantee any providers access to the fiber. Instead, it would open the door for companies such as Comcast and Century Link to bid for leases on the fibers.

"It's very important that we begin to put that extra capacity to good use," said Mayor Tommy Roberts. "The discussion has been that we would limit leases to four (fiber) strands per provider."

Such a plan would ensure fair competition among Internet service providers in the region, and provide consumers with a greater variety of choices, he said.

"I think we need to be doing it," said Councilman Dan Darnell, "but I want particulars on what we'd charge. (Leasing fiber) is a way our local government can help local businesses and residents."

Darnell said he is looking forward to getting feedback from Four Corners Economic Development and the city's Cable and Communications Commission, adding that the city is not yet at the point of considering bids on the fibers.

The debate over what to do with the city's 80 miles of so-called "dark fiber" has drawn on for years. The system, however, was never intended for third-party lease when it was installed.

In 2000, the Farmington Electric Utility System began a program to replace its existing utility communications system, and built a redundant fiber system to electric utility facilities.

To date, the utility has completed about 95 percent of the connections to desired facilities, according to a report provided to city council on Nov. 13.

According to the report, the fiber system was for utility use. No plans were made for third-party lease, and the fiber cables were usually attached to transmission and distribution structures, far from commercial or residential centers.

In 2011, the city's Public Utility Commission approved an agreement to lease the dark fiber, and a lease rate system.

In summer 2011, City Council contracted with Elert and Associates, a technology consulting firm, to determine the most effective options for utilizing the city's unused fiber infrastructure.

Although the process of drafting a lease form has taken years, Darnell said that the rate of progress is acceptable.

"We're where we need to be," he said. "It's not a half-baked idea. Now we need to make the policy decision."

Greg Yee may be reached at gyee@daily-times.com; 564-4606. Follow him on Twitter www.twitter.com/GYeeDT