Instead of a work session which may be called for the first Tuesday of the month, a special City Council meeting was scheduled for Sept. 1.
The city had the recent opportunity to submit an application for the Federal CARES Act broadband grant in response to the pandemic for access to the internet throughout the nation.
Orofino was notified of the award of the $1.178 million grant. Chris St. Germaine, Clearwater County Economic Development Specialist, reached out to Ziply to see if they might be interested in creating a proposal built around a fiber network to service the community of Orofino. The resulting contract was recently approved by the City’s attorney as well as Ziply.
St Germaine informed the council, “We have protected the city from financial liability because it is simply a pass through to you from the state to the private sector provider per the guidance of the Idaho CARES Act Program.”
This news comes at a critical time, as schools have recently been challenged with having to resort to teaching online, as students and staff who test positive, require classrooms and schools to isolate due to exposure to Covid-19.
Local school district surveys indicated online learning was not available for a substantial number of students for a variety of reasons. Many families reported not having access to an internet connection. Connection was simply not available largely due to the topography and remoteness of the region, another deterrent was the expense to obtain an internet connection.
Council members, and St. Germaine, gathered in Council Chambers to speak with Jessica Epley, Regulatory and External Affairs Director for Ziply, who was introduced telephonically to answer whatever questions the council may have regarding the contract or project.
Councilman Jon Isbelle asked how the connection would be delivered to the homes.
Epley explained that the requirements of the grant specify that Ziply have fiber in the customer’s right of way. Anywhere along that path the customer is located, ideally, they call ahead to be placed on the list using our website. Information is gathered from the customer and at the time communication becomes available, we contact the customer or potential customer to make arrangements to have an extension pulled into the home.
The extension would go to a demarcation point on the side of the home, which is a route between the covered right of way and what is referred to as the NID or Network Interface Device. The NID will connect the inside of the home to a router/modem that the customer would supply or rent from Ziply Fiber.
From that point distribution within the home can be done in a number of ways. It can use existing CAT5 wiring or CAT6 wiring within the home or a WiFi router.
Isbelle asked what the cost would be for the homeowner.
Epley replied that no installation prices will be charged to new customers, who will be able to choose one of three speed offerings to include 30/30 Mbps, 100/100 Mbps and 1/1 Gbps. Exact prices will be available soon for our market area.
Councilwoman Jennifer Dunaway asked about the cost for existing Ziply customers wanting to switch to the fiber service.
“Converting from our copper wiring service to fiber service is regarded as being a new customer at this time,” said Epley. “due to availability it could change, I can’t confirm what it will be in December, but as of now those customers in similar circumstances will be treated as new customers and offered new customer pricing.”
The fiber lines will be primarily installed over existing copper lines.
“As we were evaluating for our ability to build, we recognized just based on the topography that there may be opportunities to go beyond to serve those individuals still in need,” noted Epley. “Ziply Fiber may be making some additional investments to reach adjacent property and neighborhoods which were not included in the grant application.”
St. Germaine added, “Jessica and I have spoken about opportunities in the future to build a redundant back-up pass into the community so that if anything cuts into the line from here to Moscow, we’re not shut down to our own little world.”
“Ziply wouldn’t go through with an investment like this without creating redundancies,” said Epley, “they had been calculated to ensure passage at the end of the year.”
St. Germaine shared with the council that Epley continues working to identify clusters of potential customers within the community (from building permits and the year of construction) to better understand where service is still needed.
“Those clusters are not cost effective to build right now, but the cost will be greatly reduced with the infrastructure going in now,” said St. Germaine. “The challenges in the past is that we really haven’t had a lot of growth. Covid has really affected that, our story has really changed in the past three years.
“We’re hopeful that all of these developments will make our area more attractive, which is what we need for private investment.”
With no further questions the council voted unanimously to accept the contract, with construction to begin immediately. All work must be completed and fully invoiced by Dec. 15, 2020, in order for reimbursement.