Indy, county to explore countywide broadband

POLK COUNTY — The Polk County Board of Commissioners may join the city of Independence in a grant application to pay for a study looking at ways to provide broadband internet service countywide.

Gov. Kate Brown’s office gave Business Oregon $500,000 to offer in grants for the Rural Broadband Capacity Pilot Program. The program was created “to kick start funding opportunities to assist with planning for and deployment of broadband project targeting rural and underserved populations.”

Shawn Irvine, Independence’s economic development director, said the city replied to Business Oregon’s request for information in the fall of 2017, but wanted to include Polk County in the grant application because most rural/underserved areas are outside of cities.

“We have a good case to be made as a potential test site because we’ve got a fiber system in place in Independence and Monmouth,” he said. “We are doing somethings that could leverage it in town, but we could leverage it better out of town … if there was better service.”

Irvine said the idea is to find out who owns fiber networks and where, if there’s capacity to serve others and, if it’s possible to lease or access those networks.

“The intent is to explore countywide service,” Irvine said.

Independence has already been in contact with a consultant that performed a “scope of work” and cost estimate on a feasibility of building a network to provide access to rural residents. According to the consultant, the study would cost $50,000, and Irvine suggested applying for a grant for that amount.

CCG Consulting and its partner Finley Engineering submitted a proposal to Independence in November 2017. The proposal said a study would look in to the possibility of building a network with one provider — such as the county — and the feasibility of leasing existing fiber to connect to wireless towers throughout the county to provide service via a hybrid fiber and wireless network.

CCG said, if it completed the work, it would include research of existing networks, pre-engineering to determine cost of building a broadband network, a business plan and possible funding sources.

While CCG submitted the scope of work proposal, if the application is successful, a bid process would be used to select which firm would perform the study, Irvine said.

He said conversations with Commissioner Craig Pope about opportunities to expand, including the use of existing resources, led to the proposal of including Polk County in the application.

Pope said, if the county participates and is awarded the grant, he would like to use the results of the feasibility study to request changes during the state’s 2019 legislative session. He said he expects the study will identify hurdles to expanding broadband service that lawmakers could help sort out.

“My intent is to take this information and go to the legislature in 2019 and say here’s why we are not expanding. Here’s where you can help us,” he said. “I don’t know what that bill will look like yet. I don’t know how it will be done, but we need facts and data to put into language in a bill that says here’s how we can use the tools we already have, if you help us unlock the tool box.”

The Polk County Board of Commissioners discussed the application at its Dec. 19 meeting, but wanted more information on the proposed study before joining Independence. The application period opens later this month and is due on Feb. 21.

County Administrator Greg Hansen said he had questions he would like answered before further consideration.

“There’s going to be a lot of competition for that money, and how confident are we with this proposal that $50,000 will answer the questions that we need answered?” Hansen asked. “When the analysis scope is figured out, how much money will that cost?”


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