County looks to lead public-private effort for faster internet

County officials have put out a request for proposals in an attempt to snag a provider interested in providing broadband services in several rural areas in the county.

The project has a few “required outcomes,” according to the proposal.

Those include “turn-key high speed internet access to Garland VFD, Wrightsville VFD, Sugar Grove VFD, Spring Creek VFD and Spartansburg VFD.”

That connectivity then leads to the second tier of required outcomes — “commercial and residential access to wireless or wired high speed internet services within the Garland, Wrightsville, Sugar Grove, Spring Creek and Spartansburg communities.”

The county is now in possession of nearly $1 million in funds from the Appalachian Regional Commission, a 13-state economic development agency that incorporates the Appalachian Region. The RFP aligns with the project outlined in that grant request.

The funding had initially been awarded to Youngsville Television Corp. to “provide broadband services to unserved and under-served areas in the northwest region of Pennsylvania,” according to the grant award.

The ARC took an optimistic view of what that project could mean for the future.

“Given the large potential impact broadband access may have on the economic development and revitalization of Northwest Pennsylvania, the project will open the doors to a variety of possibilities for diversifying the regional economy, which has suffered from the decline of the coal industry.”

The RFP is open to potential third-party providers through the end of September, according to a public notice.

Commissioner Tricia Durbin, who has spearheaded broadband efforts at the county level, said the RFP targets use of those dollars but isn’t limited to that funding stream.

The county commissioners have held most of their $7.6 million in American Rescue Plan dollars close to the vest as discussion about possible broadband uses have been unfolding behind the scenes.

“The County has established areas of need for broadband services looking for an internet solution that will serve residents, business and governments throughout the County,” the RFP states.

“The County is looking for a company to design, engineer, procure, install, operate, manage, and maintain high speed internet to connect and serve the underserved rural areas of the County…. The County is willing to provide access to its vertical assets such as the fore mentioned VFD throughout the communities for deployment of wireless services that will augment internet deployments throughout the County.”

Criteria about the build out would be managed are also made clear in the document.

“This is a private/public venture due to the funding source,” the document states. “The County will own the infrastructure for a period of three years. During this time the vendor will pay a Right of Use Agreement fee for the network. While owned by the government, costs borne to operate, manage, and maintain the network will be the sole responsibility of the provider.”

There isn’t a third-party provider in mind at this stage and the RFP in and of itself is a bit of a dart throw, complicated by the specific proposal on which the ARC funding is based.

The goal behind the RFP, Durbin stressed, is to “see if anyone is willing to partner with us.”


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