CRAWFORD COUNTY - At a special meeting called for just one purpose on July 1, the Crawford County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to approve a broadband expansion partnership with Vernon Communications Cooperative.
Vernon Communications Cooperative (VCC) proposes to do a broadband expansion project of fiber optic to the premises in the northwest part of Crawford County. The co-op will own the system, and administer it.
The project is projected to cost a total of $7 million, of which Crawford County’s share will be $350,000 (approximately five percent). VCC will pay 10 percent of the cost, and the hope is that the Public Service Commission (PSC) Broadband Expansion Grant will fund 80 percent of the cost. In addition, Crawford County will cash flow the operation, while VCC awaits reimbursements from PSC. The hope is that some municipalities and/or school districts that will benefit from the project will contribute financially to the project as well.
Opening the meeting, Community Development Alternative’s Dale Klemme was asked to address the board about the proposal.
“I can’t really add much to what was discussed at the (Crawford County) Finance Committee meeting, when they voted to recommend the partnership to you,” Klemme said.
Supervisor Mary Kuhn asked Klemme about the possibility that other broadband providers operating in the area would file complaints were the PSC grant to be approved.
“I read in the Crawford County Independent that it is possible companies like Mediacom or CenturyLink will object to our grant proposal,” Kuhn said. “Are we going to have to file a complaint?”
“There is also another company, LTD broadband out of Las Vegas,” Klemme said. “From what we understand, the Federal Communications Commission has not yet officially approved them to provide service in this area – they will be attending the next meeting of the Broadband Study Group.”
Kuhn said she had read that the other companies authorized to expand broadband in the county were cherry-picking their customers, and declining to provide service to hard-to-reach rural customers.
“Two companies have laid cable down my road, but they have yet to hook anyone up,” Supervisor Dave Olson said.
Klemme clarified that there is nothing about approving the partnership with VCC that could expose Crawford County to any additional costs prior to PSC approval of the grant.VCC CEO Rod Olson expects to secure letters of support from individuals and businesses that will benefit from the project in early July. He will file the grant application by the July 27 deadline, and anticipates hearing back from PSC by September or October.