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County considers proposals for broadband

Commission still pushing for better internet in rural areas


July 16, 2020

Though the funding process still bears question marks, Crook County has taken steps towards securing better broadband for more remote areas of the county in the form of requests for proposals. This is a project that began with a statewide push to improve broadband access two years ago and has evolved into a potential avenue for CARES Act funds.

However, said Commissioner Jeanne Whalen, whether CARES Act funding can be utilized for this is still being figured out at the state level and, right now, “It’s just all up in the air”.

Because the situation is fluid and the state has never before handled an influx of funding to tackle a pandemic, she said, “Millions of dollars are sitting there and it is taking forever to get access to it.”

In the meantime, the county put out requests for proposals from companies that have the ability and desire to provide broadband in local underserved areas. Two responses were received, from Celerity and Visionary Broadband.

“Looking at it, we’ve got two bids here and it looks to me like the Celerity is for a particular area. They didn’t go countywide or anything but there is no requirement that they go countywide,” said County Attorney Joe Baron. “The other one is for a broader, countywide thing.”

Baron pointed out that it is not yet known whether competition can or should be allowed in an area according to the guidelines of the grants. On the other hand, he said, there is a limited number of potential customers in the rural parts of Crook County and, realistically, there is only room for one provider to install the infrastructure and then recover their costs – which is why it’s never been done up to this point.

“I think what you guys are going to have to do is look at these bids and figure out if there’s some way you can do it,” Baron said. “I guess the bottom line is how much does it cost and how much does the county have to come up with.”

He noted that there are topics that will need to be discussed, such as how much of a match the county will need to come up with and whether in-kind work will be accepted. Commissioner Fred Devish pointed out that the county will have to provide easements for such things as roads and power, which could qualify as an in-kind match.

Before looking at the smaller details, which are not yet completely clear at the state level, the county needs to know what can be done, who might be interested in doing it and how it could be funded.

It is still believed at this time that CARES Act funding could be used for a project of this nature, said Whalen. Justifications for Crook County applying for this funding include telehealth, educating students and telecommuting if the county ever finds itself in a lockdown situation again.

Baron asked if the county needs to prove the broadband is being used for those purposes. Whalen responded that this would not be difficult because the school has already surveyed kids and parents about virtual education and the county could do a survey on how many people had to work from home.

“I think it will be easy to prove the COVID-19 portion of that,” agreed Devish, suggesting that the school district should perhaps have some skin in this game.

Of the two bids received, Whalen suggested there may be room for both because the countywide proposal from Visionary is looser in the area around Aladdin and Beulah that the smaller bid from Celerity wants to address.

Baron suggested that the commissioners may want to interview the two companies about such things as their intentions to get internet to each address in the county. This was arranged for the following day.

Due to the proprietary information included in the proposal, the interviews were kept confidential and performed in executive session. Baron noted that, if the grant is awarded and either or both of the proposals are accepted, the information will become public record.

The commission will now wait to hear the firm details on CARES Act funding versus Wyoming’s own broadband access program before deciding which works better for Crook County’s needs.


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