Development group praises county broadband efforts
Members of the Medford Area Development Foundation (MADF) got good news Monday afternoon about a planned high-speed “middle mile” internet network to be built in the county in 2021.
County board member Mike Bub presented to the MADF’s annual meeting about the project which will be built using taxpayer dollars and paid off over time with revenue generated from leasing fiber on the network. Bub chairs the broadband committee which has been working on the project for more than two years.
Last spring, the county board unanimously approved spending $9.5 million on the project. In fall, the county requested proposals from firms to install the network. A business partner was selected and is awaiting final contract approval.
According to Bub, the business partner will install 90 miles of 432-strand fiber optic cable through the county. Bub noted that other vendors had suggested 144-strand of fiber would be sufficient. Bub explained that the biggest cost of the network is the actual installation cost with actual cost of the fiber fairly low in comparison. With a 30-40 year lifespan on the fiber, the hope is that the beefier network will provide for county needs for many years to come. One of the major components of the system is that the company will perform any ongoing maintenance or repairs on the lines as well as searching for vendors such as cellphone service providers and lease strands of fiber. He explained the plan is to have the county’s network connected to the global internet infrastructure to the north, west and south creating redundancy to reduce the possibility of outages. Bub also noted that the company plans to install a significant number of additional connection points which will be especially useful for cellphone service providers looking to expand 5G service in the area since the 5G towers are connected by fiber.
Bub said that projections from all of the vendors estimated it would take between eight and nine years to recover the construction costs after which time, the network would become a revenue generator for the county government. Beyond that, he said the goal was to improve service and accessibility for county residents and through creating competitive alternatives to the limited existing options, spur providers to offer cost-effective options to businesses and residents.
“We believe competition between TDS, Charter and our network will help lower the price,” Bub said.
Development foundation board member Chris Schield of Weather Shield praised the work being done by the county and noted that access to high speed internet is a lynchpin for business success in the future especially as businesses look toward hybrid employment models of people working remotely and on-site.
“It is something we truly need in the county,” said county board member Chuck Zenner, adding that it is an exciting time for the county.
In other business, those at the MADF annual meeting:
_ Received updates on economic development efforts over the past year. MADF president Mark Hoffman said the year has been a challenging one on many levels with economic development shifting focus to help support small businesses while also dealing with the area’s ongoing labor shortages. “I think we did the best we can,” Hoffman said, noting “We are not through this yet.” He said COVID-19 will continue to impact the area in 2021. While many businesses have been impacted by the virus, others have had better economic luck in the past year.
_ Received a report from MADF executive director Sue Emmerich, about specific efforts and projects done over the past year and looking ahead to 2021 with a plan for a virtual job fair involving multiple sites, and focusing efforts to help small businesses. “Smaller businesses are still having a really tough time of it and they just need to make it through to the other side,” Emmerich said.
_ Approved a bylaw change regarding term limits to allow a board member to serve three consecutive three-year terms followed by being an ex-officio board member. The previous bylaws allowed two, three-year terms before having to take time off from being on the board. MADF member Chip Courtney spoke on behalf of the bylaw committee explaining the change reflected the actual practice being followed.
_ Approved the election of Brian Hallgren, John Lange, Schield, and Dave Brandner to serve on the MADF board of directors. Coming off the board are Susie Nicks and Chip Courtney. Following the annual meeting, the board of directors held their reorganization meeting with Hallgren elected president, Joe Mitchell vice president, Sue Ackerman secretary and Doug Berends treasurer.