Monroe County will again ask for proposals to expand internet service in the county, this time offering up to $5.25 million in financing.
Commissioners asked county attorney Ben Vaughn on Tuesday to come up with another request for proposals after some complained that the previous process was unclear.
The county had asked for proposals to expand internet last year offering $700,000 in sales tax funds for the project. Davy Reynolds of Bolingbroke was the lone respondent, offering to deliver fiber internet to all underserved areas for a $5 million loan.
But as the county moved forward with Reynolds, Forsyth Cable objected, saying it is extending fiber internet to the south end of the county. It has protested that it would have made a proposal if the county had offered $5 million in financing the first time. Forsyth Cable has also written letters to the state saying that Reynolds’ proposal is unrealistic. It appears now both parties will have the chance to submit new proposals.
Forsyth Cable is expected soon to borrow $14 million from the U.S. Department of Agriculture for internet expansion, and has said it wants to have the same opportunity to expand internet service in Monroe County.
Ambrose and Emami went to Jefferson County, Ga. this spring to check out Reynolds’ efforts there to do the same thing he’s proposing here. Ambrose came away impressed, saying they have a GPS-guided trencher that allows them to lay down fiber cable at a mile an hour. One difference is there’s a private company, Zoom, in Jefferson County funding the internet expansion so the county doesn’t have to get involved there.
Monroe County’s plan called for it to loan Reynolds about $5 million to extend fiber over 329 miles to under-served Monroe County homes. Monroe County homes could subscribe to Reynolds’ fiber internet service for a one-time fee of $180 and then would pay $69.99 per month for 50 Megs of speed or $99.99 per month for 100 megs. Customers could also get Reynolds’ TV cable and telephone service. In turn Reynolds would pay back the $5 million over 5-10 years, using about 35 percent of net revenues. Once the bond is paid off, Reynolds would continue to collect $120 per year from customers to pay the county an estimated $126,000 in new revenue annually.
Meanwhile, the state released a map this week showing large swaths of Monroe County are still underserved by internet. County attorney Ben Vaughn said the Regional Commission can review the map and make sure it’s accurate before the county seeks proposals again.
While Emami and Ambrose support financing internet expansion, chairman Greg Tapley and commissioner Larry Evans have said they don’t.
“I don’t feel the urgency of it,” said Evans.
“I know you don’t,” retorted Emami, “that’s the problem.”
That makes commissioner Eddie Rowland the swing vote on whether the county finances internet expansion.