BEATRICE – Gage County has selected a contractor to improve high-speed broadband access in the county. The county would make use of $4.2 million in American Rescue plan Act funding toward an estimated $11 million to $12 million project.

County Supervisor Emily Haxby and a special committee has been working on the project, receiving proposals from three companies. Wednesday, the board selected Nextlink Internet of Nebraska, to negotiate a contract with.

"Their proposal covered a significant part of rural Gage County with fiber. They will hit about one thousand homes in the next two years. Their cost per month was about $30 less than the next closest applicant. They offer speeds of 100-by-100 to two-gig by two gig in their fiber layout. Their plan is to bury the fiber and conduit and will have a warehouse for operations in our county. This was a very difficult decision because of the other very competitive applicants...but the committee feels that the best use of these funds would be with Nextlink, as their guarantee to build has the lowest risk to the county, to complete the project."

Gage County has been assisted by the Southeast Nebraska Development District and Universal Broadband Consulting in reviewing proposals from Nextlink, Windstream and Diode Communications.  Haxby noted that the project will complement a federally supported project to provide a licensed fixed wireless service for the southeast part of the county, where plowing fiberoptic was not feasible.  UBC will assist the county in negotiating a contract with Nextlink. Oliver Borchers-Williams worked with SENDD in helping the county on the broadband initiative. He said during the Covid pandemic, it became clear insufficient connectivity was a hindrance in rural areas… do things like work remotely, access telehealth or take classes.

"I am thrilled to see the Gage County rural broadband project coming to a conclusion, today. This project will do more than connect households. It will set Gage County up for continued economic growth in an increasingly connected world. Most excitingly, this project situates Gage County squarely at the forefront of public involvement in broadband expansion here in Nebraska. This multi-month RFP process was open, transparent, and ensured the county's one-time ARPA allocation would support the project that would bring the greatest connectivity to the most rural households."

Borchers-Williams described the process as a solid playbook for others to follow in broadband expansion. Haxby said the project will help extend high speed internet service in what she called a “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity”. County Board Chairman Erich Tiemann called it an incredible step forward for Gage County.

The supervisors also approved a contract with Universal Broadband Consulting to negotiate an agreement with Nextlink….and approved a memorandum of understanding with Nebraska Public Power District, to share costs of a study of broadband infrastructure development.  NPPD would pick up half the cost of the estimated $20,000 study. Norris Public Power District and five counties would split the remaining costs.

Haxby said "That feasibility study would better set us up for any future funding for any company wanting to do any projects here in our county....and also find other options or public-private partnerships that would be able to complete the rest of the county through this process. This just sets us up with a group of people who would all work together to find a solution for every home in the county."

Discussions about an ARPA-backed broadband project have been going on since late last year.