The fiscal court has contracted CTC Technology & Energy, a national broadband engineering firm, to examine options for the county’s broadband project.

The broadband project would expand internet access across Scott County, which Judge-Executive Joe Pat Covington said has become a “necessity” since the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic began last year.

Covington said CTC will help the county find opportunities and funding for the project.

“We felt like we needed to have a company to help guide us that had experience in expanding community’s broadband options,” he said. “Primarily what they’re going to help us do is they’re looking at all the technical aspects of all the grant opportunities we have on a federal and state level, leaving no stone unturned. They’re looking at every option we’d have a chance applying for.”

Heather Mills, vice president of grant and funding strategies at CTC, said the company is committed to finding any and all options available for the county.

“The county has prioritized getting a robust broadband service throughout the county footprint,” she said. “They are looking to be responsible stewards of their tax dollars and are looking for opportunities that will allow them to utilize federal funding programs for this.”

Mills added that CTC essentially will serve in a “trusted advisor” role throughout the project.

“What we are helping to do is a few things,” she said. “One of those is to focus on the broadband priorities themselves that the county has, help them define what’s out there and how we can help foster further development of plans that may already be out there and in what way the county can support projects that may already be out there.”

Currently, CTC has drafted a request for information (RFI) for the county that is currently under review to identify opportunities moving forward.

“We’re finalizing an RFI being put out so that the county can identify potential private partners and what the potential is for current plans that are out there and how they can foster further plans,” Mills said. “The county is open to all types of business models.”

But there is no completion date in sight just yet. Mills said the project will take some time before it is implemented.

“We’re at the beginning of the process of figuring out what will work in the county, and as soon was we get through the RFI process and make recommendations, the county court can decide what paths they want to go on,” she said.

Mills said the responses for the RFI will likely be due at the end of February, but that date is subject to change. Then the team at CTC will take approximately one week to turn around recommendations for the county. Once those recommendations are made, the county can decide which request for proposals (RFPs) they would like issue.

A work session was held by CTC for the fiscal court on Jan. 8 to learn more about the goals the county had for the project.

“CTC wanted to talk to the whole court to kind of gauge their interest and ask a few questions about certain areas we want to target first,” Covington said. “If you look at our broadband speed tests we’ve had, Scott County is like a doughnut around the city of Georgetown. We have areas of no service or bad service and it’s scattered all around, not just one area. There is a true need for that data.”

Overall, Covington said the work session with the court was beneficial for both the court and CTC moving forward.

“From that meeting, I feel like our court is committed to going down this road and path trying to get a plan put together,” he said. “They understand how big an issue it is.”

Covington said the project, which has been a topic in the forefront since he first campaigned for judge-executive, will likely have a “phased approach” once a “public-private partnership” is hopefully developed.

“I’ve talked to numerous providers about expanding and met with them numerous times,” he said. “It all comes down to the return on investment for them. It’s an expensive outlay to put fiber out. It has to make business sense to them.”

While the project was in the works prior to the pandemic, Covington said the need for expanded internet access has only be exasperated during the pandemic, citing Telehealth and virtual learning for schools as examples.

“I look at it like years ago, we added water lines all over the county and before that electric lines, this is just an extension of the same thing,” he said. “Information is so important now. It’s not an option, it’s a necessity.”

Mills agreed and said that the pandemic has only proved the need for an expansion such as this in the county.

“Everyone has seen the value of having an internet connection, not matter how slow or how fast it is,” she said. “I see broadband as essential a utility as electricity or water. I can’t speak for others, but it’s an essential item specifically now.”

 

Kyle Woosley can be reached at kwoosley@news-graphic.com.

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