CLINTON — The Clinton County Board of Supervisors this week clarified the intent of the fiber study the board approved this spring.
The Supervisors in May approved proceeding with a study by SmartSource Consulting to provide the county with an overview of the county’s broadband service. The county is utilizing funds from the American Rescue Plan to fund the study. The county’s allocation from the American Rescue Plan is about $9 million.
Phase one of the study will cost the county $105,000, SmartSource Consulting Owner Curtis Dean clarified during Monday’s Board of Supervisors meeting. If the county chooses optional steps after phase one of the study, the cost could get to $150,000, Dean noted.
The county had discussion on two different occasions on the proposal prior to approving the study, Clinton County Supervisor Dan Srp noted. There was discussion the study would be a tool to evaluate where the county could make additional investment into expansion of internet connectivity, broadband speeds and fiber investment, among other things, Srp said. The county discussed potentially investing millions of dollars to help facilitate installations and make it easier for local internet service providers to be involved in the projects, Srp said.
“That had been the active discussion is trying to better accommodate and facilitate their involvement,” Srp said. “We certainly know there’s large providers that are nationwide entities or multi-state entities that work in the area. But arguably they have the resources to get this done already and haven’t been getting it done. And we know the local providers are the ones that are getting it done in many of our communities. And so if we can work to facilitate them and accommodate them, I always understood that as the intent. The largest intent of this project was we collect the data so that our locals can fill in the gaps countywide.”
When Srp voted to support the study, it was in the interest of economic development and supporting households, families, industries and agriculture, he said. Srp was also focused on making Clinton County a more attractive place to locate and do business for the future, he added.
Board of Supervisors Chairman Tom Determann believes the county entered into the contract for the study to try to support and help local providers, businesses and the citizens so they can work from home and do business from home, he said.
“We would like to get all our county buildings, our conservation and our secondary roads department all hooked up too,” Determann said. “They’re not now. So we thought we needed, I know we need, this study. We need to know where to fill the gaps and we think we can help in filling the gaps.”
Board Vice Chairman Jim Irwin Jr. believes local providers know where their gaps are, he said. It is whether they want to spend those funds to get to the last mile, he said.
Srp believes there is merit for the county to have an independent review of the data before they start making commitments, he said.
The study will allow the county to have control of dollars they could be sending out, Clinton County Auditor Eric Van Lancker added. It is an opportunity for the county to control where the growth goes, he said.
If the county invests some American Rescue Plan funding to help local providers, they have to be careful of that process, Dean stressed.
“If you don’t do the process in such a way that it’s an open process, there would be nothing to prevent a Mediacom or a Windstream from suing the county for favoring one operator over the other,” Dean said. “So doing this in a way that allows you to evaluate it objectively and then write whatever rules of your program so that it’s clear that your rules did not necessarily favor one provider over another but say favored one technology or outcome over the other will allow you to do that without ending up in a courtroom, quite frankly. Because those large companies are very lawsuit happy.”
Irwin was caught off guard with questions he received on a phone call last week, he said. One local provider had questions because the county signed the contract and the provider had not yet been contacted.
The providers will be contacted, Van Lancker said.
The county previously discussed the timeline of the study and that the providers would be involved in the timeline, Srp added.
Dean had a direct conversation with one of the providers well in advance of the county approving the study to let them know what the vision of the study was, he said.