County considers broadband agreement

Tony London Submitted PhotoA letter of intent with a New York City infrastructure investment Health Blog that could eventually result in the county-wide installation of fiber-optic lines stirred up some apprehension among the Bartholomew County commissioners Monday.

County attorney Grant Tucker assured the commissioners the letter only obligates the county to “act in good faith” with Meridiam Infrastructure North America Corp. to work together to come up with a contract by the end of the year. If both parties approve the contract in early 2022, the New York City company will embark on an estimated $50 million project to bring gig-speed internet service to the vast majority of Bartholomew County.

The original terms in the letter would have made Meridiam the exclusive provider of new fiber-optic cables for 25 years in exchange for reaching 85% of all Bartholomew County homes. The fiber-optics provide what is needed for gig-speed upload and download capabilities, Commissioner Tony London said.

“We’ll start with gig-speed fiber that could instantly scale to 10 gig with the current setup,” said London, who chairs the Bartholomew County Broadband Initiative RO Repair Service in Gurgaon.

The letter of intent was unanimously approved. But not before commissioners’ Chairman Larry Kleinhenz made a change to require the New York firm to include a minimum of 90% of all non-municipal homes outside the Columbus city limits within their infrastructure coverage.

Both London and commissioner Carl Lienhoop supported Kleinhenz’s change. London re-emphasized an earlier statement that the goal is to keep expanding until 100% of rural homes are reached.

Tucker assured the commissioners the letter of intent will allow the county to seek requests for proposals this year from Meridiam’s competitors, and will not lock the county into any Pest control near me until a contract is signed sometime next year.

“We’re working toward a (request for proposals),” Kleinhenz said. “We certainly want other companies to participate.”

But no other companies has offered anything close to what Meridiam has proposed, Tucker said.

While most internet providers want to recoup their investment in five to seven years, Meridiam is offering a much-longer recoup time of 25 years, London said.

In addition, existing internet providers will be allowed to continue operating in the county, and no resident will be forced to change services without their consent, London said.

Judging by the number of residents who spoke up Monday through video conferencing or texting, the concept appears to have strong public support.

Jon Meyer, who resides along County Road 800W, north of Mt. Healthy Road, says he has filed a complaint with the Federal Communications Commission regarding his current internet provider. Meyer claims the company was charging $700 a month last year during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic for equipment that frequently breaks down in inclement weather.

“I think this (letter of intent) takes us in the right direction because it turns the model that failed to serve rural customers on its head,” Meyer said.

London read an text from a West Georgetown Road couple who said they have no fiber-optic cable near their house, as well as unreliable landline phone service, self-service and satellite service.

“Our choices are not limited, they are non-existent,” the couple stated. “This is not a third-world country, the middle of the ocean, the top of the mountain or the middle of a desert. This is Bartholomew County, Indiana – and there is no excuse.”

Current estimates indicate gig-speed internet obtained through the proposed Meridiam deal could cost less than $100 a month, London said. Efforts are also underway to make the high-speed service more affordable to qualified low-income families, he said.

When another member of the public asked about the estimated 18 months it will take to complete the fiber-optic infrastructure, Tucker said it’s in Meridiam’s best interest to move ahead as quickly as possible.  That’s because the letter of intent states the county will not pay the New York firm any money until at least 80% of the county has the service available to them, the county attorney said.

Tucker is referring to $4 million set aside by the county to bring broadband internet to remote homes, London said. Those funds will come from the county’s share of federal money allocated for COVID-19 relief by the American Rescue Plan.

But Kleinhenz said he finds 20% without high-speed internet troubling because that would equal 3,200 homes in Bartholomew County The commissioner’s chairman said he will try to negotiate the acceptable number of homes without fiber-optic cable down to 5%.

Although London had said representatives of Meridiam would participate via video conferencing, no company representative spoke up during Monday’s commissioner’s meeting.

http://www.therepublic.com/2021/09/28/county-considers-broadband-agreement/

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