In an effort to expand broadband to underserved areas of Polk County, the commissioners approved at their Jan. 25 meeting four project proposals from two network providers which could potentially add services to more than 1,000 residents.
Dean Anderson, project manager for the broadband proposals, told the County Commissioners the committee selected the four following proposals by Monmouth-Independence Networks (MINET) and Philomath based Alyrica Networks, Inc.:
-MINET service to Clow Corner/Rickreall for $300,000
-Alyrica to NW Dallas using wireless $795,000
-MINET service to SW Dallas for little over $1 million
-MINET feasibility study for Falls City for $20,000
Chairman Lyle Mordhorst said the need to expand broadband service became very clear when COVID first hit, forcing many residents to work from home with inferior access to the Internet.
“It became apparent that Polk County was very challenged with internet access - 50% of houses in rural Polk County had no internet or what they had was very poor,” Mordhorst said. “And the change made in first round a year ago was amazing. It’s been brought up to 90%. To see where it’s going is very exciting.”
Anderson said the broadband committee was looking for grants to service additional areas in Northwest and Southwest Dallas, West Salem and secondary areas with high percentage of residents with either very low service or now service.
“We told the vendors we’re looking to evaluate grants based on the number of folks they were going to serve, or location, costs, cost effectiveness, costs match relative to cost per customer via service and ability to provide service to low fixed income residents,” Anderson said.
He added both Falls City and Rickreall had some areas in them where they had some fiber service, but based on additional analysis, the service was not widespread. But due to a different federal definition of underserved rural areas, the committee elected to fund a MINET feasibility study into expanding into the Falls City area.
“What ends up happening as end result of those, a fiscal impact of a little over $2 million and increase service to over 1,000 rural county residents,” Anderson said. “Which is pretty cool.”
Greg Hansen, county administration officer, explained he and Anderson arrived at the same conclusion for the projects that made the most sense – Anderson from the service side, Hansen from the fiscal side.
“But they still matched when we met as a group to determine which group to select,” Hansen said.
He added the majority of the proposed projects will be funded by money received from the state. He said each state senator receives an allotment of funding for local projects. In this case, Polk County expects to receive $1.68 million from Sen. Brian Boquist’s coffers to put toward broadband expansion.
“The balance of funding will occur from ARPA (American Rescue Plan Act) funds. Originally, we had about $300,000 as a budget estimate. This will require us to have $447,000 in place to address four projects. Well within our ARPA money allotment and flexibility in budget I’ve built for it,” Hansen said. “Getting grant money for NW area probably have to add additional $800,000 from ARPA funds.
Commissioner Craig Pope, who sat in on the project selection committee, said the four projects represent a really good mix fixed wireless and fiber.
“I’m very excited to see how this comes together and how quickly we can connect the numbers of homes suggested in these two vendors’ applications. The intention for us we encourage more fiber buildout for the future. That clearly is the direction we need to be going. Everybody that works in this broadband world says that is what we need to be focused on and working our way towards as much as we possibly can,” Pope said. “Additionally, these projects especially the Falls City, will lend themselves well with these vendors’ application with Oregon Broadband, we believe. I think we are well on our way to making a significant difference with all the work we’ve done with all of these folks.”
Commissioner Jeremy Gordon said while he was really impressed with the proposals, he was disappointed the federal government didn’t see the same needs that would have provided additional funding.
“Drilling deep in data locations, it’s troubling to me it doesn’t match what feds are seeing. Hopefully some of that information trickle up to them to them to improve their efforts,” Gordon said.