Broadband ReConnect picks up steam
Yates County was recently awarded a USDA/RUS ReConnect Grant for the construction of a gigabit-capable fiber optic broadband network to reach unserved/underserved premises in our County. Rural Utility Service (RUS) is an agency within the USDA that provides much-needed infrastructure or infrastructure improvements to rural communities. The $14M project is making progress on multiple fronts with a goal to start construction in 2021.
“This grant will help get broadband capabilities to areas of the county that currently do not have adequate speed or service,” Yates County Legislature Chairman Doug Paddock stated.
While the County has experience with Federal and State Grants, this is the first time dealing with RUS.
“We are building a solid relationship with RUS,” said County Administrator Winona Flynn. “Robert Fry, RUS General Field Representative (GFR) for N.Y., N.J., and Pa. has been great to work with. RUS is doing all they can to help us be successful.”
This Spring Yates County returned a signed contract to RUS covering all the legal, financial, and environmental aspects of the project.
“This is one of the largest projects that the County has ever undertaken so it’s been essential to get things organized and moving in the right direction,” says Flynn.
The Yates County Broadband Advisory Committee, which includes Flynn, Legislators Leslie Church, Tim Cutler, and Rick Willson, IT Director Tim Groth, County Planner Dan Long, Projects and Grants Specialist Marian Walrath, and Michael Lipari from the Finger Lakes Economic Development Center, has been involved in every step along the way.
Recently, four new county residents have joined the Advisory Committee—Steve Brigham, Brian Gentry, Bob Nielsen, and Mike O’Brien.
“These Yates County residents have strong career experience in the broadband arena,” says Flynn. “They are already lending a wealth of technical and business acumen to the project.”
A key task of the Committee is to bring a recommended Business and Operational Model to the Legislature. It is likely that Yates County will not have the intention to be a telecommunications operator of the installed network, but rather, look to partner with an existing ISP (Internet Service Provider) to develop a mutually beneficial business arrangement for operation of the network. Contacts have been made and discussions are underway with a wide range of ISP providers including local and national firms.
On the Engineering front, a draft report of the Board Ready Study commissioned this spring is expected at the end of September. The Five-County Coalition including Chemung, Schuyler, Steuben, Tioga, and Yates, authorized STN (Southern Tier Network) to work with Fujitsu to deliver a feasibility study with a goal of making regional, unified decisions to meet rural broadband needs. The Yates County portion of this study will provide an important foundation for the project including the next engineering phase.
The County has started the process of securing a professional engineering firm who will be responsible to develop the detailed plans and specifications of the network design and build, and then to provide project oversight during the construction phase. A request for information has been sent to a number of engineering firms to confirm their interest and qualifications such as licensing in N.Y.S. and experience working on RUS projects. The goal is to have an engineering contract in place in 2020.
One of the first deliverables working with this engineering firm will be to reassess the Proposed Funded Service Areas (PFSA) of the project. These are the areas that were approved by RUS for build-out using the grant monies. There are very specific RUS definitions of what premises can and cannot be included.
It is not simply that a single household is unserved or underserved, says Flynn. It is estimated that there are 1,635 premises within the PFSA. Amendments to the map (more premises) will be explored based on newer data, with the county goal of including as many premises as possible. Any changes would have to be approved by RUS.
An interactive version of the PFSA’s can be found at www.yatescounty.org/542/USDA-ReConnect-Grant on the county’s website. County residents are welcome to provide data and reasoning for consideration in this amendment process.
Once the engineering plans and specifications are finalized, the county will move into a bid process to secure the construction firm that will do the actual build.
Updates on the project can be found on the County’s internet site at www.yatescounty.org/542/USDA-ReConnect-Grant. Questions or more information can be obtained through the project office via firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.