BEATRICE – The Gage County Board has rejected a utility permit application sought by Pinpoint Communications to provide broadband service to about ten homes, northeast of Beatrice. In the 5-2 vote, a majority of the board felt the project represents an over-build of services using public funds, in a project area that is already partly funded by ARPA dollars.

Pinpoint received Broadband Bridge Program grant funding through the Nebraska Public Service Commission. NextLink is completing a build-out of new broadband access in the same area…a project that combined ARPA funds and private investment.

Supervisor Emily Haxby said she tried to convince the PSC through an appeal, that the project duplicated an already-existing effort. "We have so many homes that need connectivity that we cannot afford to be over-building, using public funds. The commission's explanation that the denial of the appeal is based on procedural issues is a bad faith argument, since the commission's own maps had the Gage County project included on those same maps."

President of Pinpoint Communications, Tom Shoemaker says his company is completing a build-out of broadband in the City of Beatrice…and he asked the county approve the permit for the area from Dorsey to Hickory Road…between South 1st Road and South 5th Drive.

"We're 99-percent complete with our Beatrice build that we started about 18 months ago. We've been completing that and turning customers up. We're really just wanting to move this thing forward. I know there's a lot of contentiousness around this. I'm not here to re-litigate the public service commission's decision on things. We're hear to look for a permit and continue to do what we're obligated to do....which is to continue to serve rural Nebraskans."

Two Nebraska lawmakers attended the county board’s meeting….Myron Dorn, of Adams....and Bruce Bostelman, of Brainerd.  Bostelman has been deeply involved in broadband issues in the legislature and has been critical of the PSC.

"We have to go to the unserved and under-served areas first, with these grants and funding...and then we go to other areas. There's only so much money coming into the state from the feds and what the state has, to build these. So when we start using excess funds to overbuild areas....that's taking away someone else, from being built to."

County Supervisors Gary Lytle and Don Schuller voted in favor of granting Pinpoint the utility permit. Schuller said the debate should be happening before the PSC….not before the county board.

"It seems a utility permit is being used to leverage what we think has been done wrong by the public service commission. That doesn't sit well with me, because we're going well beyond what our duties are as a county board with a utility permit, as simple as that is. We're using it as leverage to control overlap of broadband....and I don't like that either and I don't like the public service commission's decision...but is this the place to fight that battle?"

In the past, the county board has routinely approved utility permits sought by communications companies, including those undertaking broadband projects. Lytle noted the public service commission approved a Tier One grant for the Pinpoint work.  "Maybe they have a plan or a program in place, that this fits what they're wanting to do. Maybe there's a reason it makes sense, but that's not for us to decide here, today. It's a utility permit."

The supervisors spent considerable time discussing the matter on Wednesday, including going into closed session for nearly a half-hour.