The Phelps County Commission is currently exploring opportunities to use its share of American Rescue Plan Act funds to enable broadband expansion in Phelps County. The county received $4.3 million through the federal program this year and will receive another infusion of $4.3 million going forward. Per ARPA guidelines, the first half of the money must be spent by the end of 2022, with the second half’s deadline being 2024.
To begin a conversation on the topic the commissioners met recently with Tony Floyd and Doug Lane of Intercounty Electric Cooperative to discuss whether ARPA money could fund broadband projects in Phelps County through the co-op. The consensus was details will need to be reviewed to get a clear answer, but all agreed such questions need to be posed.
“If we can work together, we’d be interested in looking at it, but until we see the language I can’t commit to it,” Intercounty’s Lane said of joining such an effort.
Lane and Floyd told the commissioners before any numbers are crunched, ARPA funding criteria will need to be reviewed by them to ascertain whether they can accept the federal funding and what if any internet specifications are included in the program. If Intercounty can accept the funding, a next step will be determining if any projects in Phelps County are financially feasible to undertake with the commission’s help.
“We’ve been looking at Internet in a lot of different areas,” Lane said. “The problem being is when we roll it out system wide, it’s such a large number, and to do that you need a minimum of seven connections per mile. We only have a density of around five, so the numbers don’t quite add up.”
As an example of scale, Lane highlighted Intercounty has studied expanding broadband access to customers within one mile of Licking and found connecting to approximately 1,000 more users there would require 52 to 55 additional miles of internet line and is estimated to cost around $3 million. Systemwide, Lane said an older study estimated a broadband roll out to the entire Intercounty service area would cost approximately $120 million.
“It’s not cheap to roll out,” Lane said.
Another factor Lane cited is work by another entity will be providing broadband internet to the Seaton area of Phelps County through a separate FCC initiative over the next few years.
Still, the commissioners reiterated they have ARPA funds to invest and improving local internet access is a top priority. They were particularly interested whether the several miles of existing fiber lines in Phelps County could be used as a backbone to extend broadband by way of installing additional Point of Presence interfaces, or “PoPs,” to residents nearby to that existing infrastructure.
“We’ll put a smile on every face that gets internet and gets it now,” presiding commissioner Randy Verkamp said.
Going forward, the group agreed to meet again after having reviewed the underpinning federal guidelines to discuss further.
PHELPS COUNTY FOCUS