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Broadband planning continues

One of the most significant challenges facing rural America is a lack of reliable, high-speed internet access.

The county previously created a Broadband Task Force to explore the issue, highlighted specifically by the COVID-19 pandemic. That group has been reconstituted and is in the planning stages of a multi-million plan that would expand broadband access in the area.

Warren County Commissioner Tricia Durbin said that Youngsville Television Corporation’s Tom Mott is working with two consultants — one in Vermont “who has done this in rural areas before” and an attorney with experience in the field.

“The idea is to choose a partner,” Durbin said, noting that the plan has been presented to the county commissioners for consideration.

She explained that the initiative would rejuvenate the county’s Industrial Development Authority, which has largely laid dormant outside of securing funding for the Rouse Estate in the past.

“The goal would be to have a plan together,” she said, with funding for the private entity coming through revenue bonds.

The idea behind a revenue bond — often issued for toll bridges and airports — is that the only source of funds to pay back the bond would come from the revenue generated by the project.

“This isn’t the sole answer,” Durbin said, “but it is a base that we can begin with.”

She said the initial proposal could cost $13 million to $14 million over three phases spanning nine years

“We really are working on it,” she said, noting that there will be funding coming into the county from the American Rescue Plan.

Broadband expansion is one of the allowable uses for that funding. The county is expected to receive roughly $7.6 million as a part of the stimulus.

“The biggest challenge is building the infrastructure,” Durbin explained. “(We have) not had any big player want to step up… and invest in rural American’ based on the rate of return.

The effort remains in the planning stages at this point.

“There’s a lot still unknown,” she said. “I think that this has a real good chance of success.”

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