Gage County finalizes rural broadband project
BEATRICE – Gage County officials have approved a fiber-optic project that will provide high speed broadband service to about 950 households in rural areas of central and northern Gage County.
The county is making use of $4.2 million in American Rescue Plan Act funding to help pay for the approximately $13 million project, through NextLink Internet.
Gage County Board member Emily Haxby led a committee that has worked on the project the past year.
"A drop will be placed in the right-of-way to 950 homes within our project area. It will be built out in two years". Haxby said the company will have a permanent warehouse office in the county. The fiber will be buried in conduit. The county received proposals from three companies for the service.
The project is one a consulting firm says is a first for Nebraska and will likely serve as a model for other areas of the state to upgrade broadband. Lowell Brooks is President and Co-Founder of Universal Broadband Consulting.
"Broadband connectivity is probably the most important economic development and community tool that we have in this state and it's probably the most important tool we've had in our respective lifetimes. It's no longer a luxury to have great broadband and reliable broadband...it's a necessity." Brooks said the project will benefit education telehealth, community development, manufacturing and precision agriculture. He also said it aids in attracting people to the area.
Brooks called the agreement “an enormously important project” that is being watched as a model by other counties across the state.
Gage County also worked with Southeast Nebraska Development District on the project. Oliver Borchers-Williams of SENDD said, "It will make Gage County one of the most connected counties in the state and it will make Gage County a leader across the state and likely across the country when it comes to county involvement in public private partnerships to expand rural broadband."
The county board approved the project on a 6-0 vote. Board member Don Schuller, who represents a southern area of the county, said he was disappointed that the project did not reach into the south part of the county with fiber optic or better wireless service. Diode Communications of Diller has been working on fiber optic expansions to several areas. Randy Sandman of Diode said he is concerned about what he called over-building.
"Diller Telephone and Diode Communications has invested heavily in the Diller, Odell, Virginia, Holmesville...we've got projects going all the way from Beatrice to the Gage County line. We're really concerned about the potential of duplication and wasting of this ARPA money."
Brooks said the funding does not allow for over-building and project proponents have worked hard to ensure that doesn’t occur.
A representative of NextLink says the project is engineered and the next steps include installation of underground conduit, installing the fiber through the conduit and running drops to properties.