Posted on

Committee eyes stimulus to help pay for broadband

Taylor County may look at using some federal stimulus aid to expand on and offset the cost of installation of a broadband network.

As part of the federal stimulus package approved earlier this year, the county is expected to receive about $1.9 million federal American Rescue Plan funding.

County clerk Andria Farrand noted that rules on how the money can be spent are not firm, however she noted that broadband expansion was specifically listed as something on which it can be spent.

County finance director Larry Brandl agreed, “From the state level it is broadband and then clear as mud after that.”

Committee chairman Mike Bub said the county has not formally said how they intend to use the money or even set up a process on deciding how it would be spent. In one scenario, the money could be “de-federalized” by using it to pay for broadband, and then using the money the county had borrowed for the broadband project for other projects in the county.

Committee member Rollie Thums noted that the broadband plan had called for revenue to be generated from the lines to help pay off the debt. However the federal funds are a one-shot deal. “We should use it to the best we can,” Thums said.

Another option, Bub said, was to tap into some of the federal dollars coming to the county to expand the project. Specifically, Bub noted the county had been seeking a grant from the Public Service Commission to help cover the cost of bringing fiber optics to towers in Perkinstown and Jump River. The plan was that with fiber to towers there, the county could work with a fixed wireless internet service provider to provide high speed access to homes and businesses in that region.

Committee member Gene Knoll also noted this would enhance the cellphone capabilities in the area as cellular providers could upgrade service utilizing the fiber network. Bub agreed, noting it would address the cellular service issues in that part of the county as well as help with sheriff’s department emergency communications in addition to bringing broadband to more parts of the county.

According to Bub, the reason the county had not been successful with the PSC grant application was because commission members favored fiber to the home rather than fixed wireless systems choosing not to fund proposals for fixed wireless. Bub said it was unrealistic to expect any plan to serve truly rural parts of the state to not include fixed wireless. Bub and the county’s broadband consultant are meeting with the PSC on Friday to go over that issue.

Bub said he is not opposed to the idea of offsetting some of the cost of the broadband project, adding other departments will have worthwhile projects too. Rather he was in favor of fulfilling the mission of getting broadband internet to the residents and businesses of Taylor County.

The committee was also alerted that engineering is currently taking place with the installation of lines expected to begin by June. There are plans to hold a formal groundbreaking for the project when it gets underway.

Bub said WanRack’s construction coordinators are anticipating an aggressive effort to get the lines installed stating that they will have multiple crews working around the county at the same time and hope to put in eight miles of line each day in the rural areas.

In addition, businesses are reminded that as part of the project, any businesses within 500 feet of the line will get free installation of the fiber line at the time the crews are installing. There will be a fee for service later, but the installation of the lines would be done at no cost to the businesses.

An informational website is being developed for people to track the progress of the project and address questions.