“The commissioners would like to identify a qualified partner for multiple purposes,” Boyko said. “That is, to assess the state of availability of high-speed fiber-optic broadband in Butler County. To develop a plan to build and extend the high-speed fiber network to buildings and establish and operate that extended fiber to the building network.”
Former County Administrator and Director of Butler Rural Cooperative Engineering, Charlie Young, presented the commissioners with a $3.9 million offer to provide high-speed broadband to approximately 2,700 rural locations in Butler County, in partnership with Cincinnati Bell.
Young told Journal News that he sought to find out just how much the county lacked enough internet by using the Broadband Ohio website, which isn’t easy. His best guess is that only 55% of people have real, reliable, high-speed access.
“It’s hard to find reliable, accurate information about who really has what, hard to find at the census tract level, and even more difficult to find at the address level,” Young said. “What we’re really left with is guesswork, and part of the problem is that companies claim to provide a level of service that they honestly don’t, or that level of service might be available at 2 a.m. when there’s only one person online and once there’s two no longer there “.
Young said BREC doesn’t actually need the commissioners’ help anymore because AltaFiber recently informed them that they will be extending fiber connections to all remaining unserved members throughout their service area.
ARPA regulations mandate upload/download speeds, population served and other requirements, but Boyko said the county can also adapt them to local needs. The commissioners expressed concern that simply providing service to the people is not enough.
“We’re not going to put something in the ground or on poles that doesn’t work,” Commissioner Don Dixon told the Journal News. “We’re definitely going to put up with something that isn’t accessible to everyone, and that’s the same thing as not having it.”
Boyko said there are many areas scattered throughout the RFP that require potential service providers to handle affordable Internet service. Just this week, President Joe Biden announced that 20 Internet companies have agreed to offer a discounted service to low-income people through the current Affordable Connection Program.
Participating service providers are Allo Communications, AltaFiber (and Hawaiian Telecom), Altice USA (Optimum and Suddenlink), Astound, AT&T, Breezeline, Comcast, Comporium, Frontier, IdeaTek, Cox Communications, Jackson Energy Authority, MediaCom, MLGC and Spectrum (Charter Telecom), Starry, Verizon (Fios only), Vermont Telephone Co. and Vexus Fiber and Wow! Internet, cable and television.
Boyko said the proposed RFP would give delegates flexibility to “expand” the programme.
“Right now, it looks like the commissioners have come to a consensus on a $10 million project, we will have to design this RFP so that there are components to build that will be priced so you can see how much the project will cost by area,” Boyko said. “So you can see what you can include with a budget of $10 million. Obviously the board could expand and allocate additional funding, if the proposals return you only meet 75% of the need or 85% of the need.”
Commissioner TC Rogers said he wanted the RFP to be very clear about what this project is and what it isn’t.
“It’s for work and school, we have no desire to do this so you can get your Amazon order faster,” Rogers said. “We will do this and provide the services that are most needed, but these are the pure reasons why we are doing it.”
Commissioner Cindy Carpenter said, “I just want it to be clear if somebody gets the $10 million that they’re going to make sure that every student in Butler County has access to the Internet.”
Boyko recommends that the county form an evaluation committee to examine the proposals, which could include Greene, Young, the University of Miami, the county’s director of information technology Eric Fletcher and others.
Commissioners have yet to agree to the RFP announcement.