4/5/2017 12:32:00 PM Harrison County signs deal for 115 miles of $5 million fiber-optic backbone
Ross Schulz, Corydon Democrat
The Harrison County Council Monday night approved an interlocal agreement providing $2 million for the Mainstream Fiber Networks high-speed Internet plan for the county.
The board of commissioners approved the agreement unanimously during a joint meeting with the council.
The council was not unanimous, however, with Councilman Gary Byrne voting against.
Byrne said it wasn't right to give public money to a private business that will then turn around and compete with others in the county to provide Internet services.
He also said he had no problem voting on the request because his company, Byrne Satellite, does not provide Internet; therefore, there's no conflict of interest.
Byrne said he thought the council should wait "three or four months" to see if Mainstream gets as many customers as they are expecting (62 percent) with the current lines that are already in place.
"Why wouldn't we want to test drive it and have them show us the customers before we make this type of commitment?" he asked. "That's just common sense thinking. That's how I'd do it with my money."
Project manager George Ethridge said the problem with waiting is the idea that the construction crews will move on and start a different job and they should act now while they're still in the county and there's the potential for construction costs to rise.
"They love it," Ethridge said. "It's cheaper than what they had."
The Harrison County Community Foundation approached the council earlier this month about a joint funding effort to pay for the $5 million project, which will spread high-speed fiber Internet out among a few main artery roads in the county.
The Foundation plans to borrow $3 million for the project while the county will use the interest from the community fund administered by the Foundation for its $2 million portion.
Mainstream is in the process of completing the Corydon area portion of the project, which connects the Harrison County Government facilities. All buildings are now connected except for the highway garage south of town and the offices of the Harrison County Soil & Water Conservation District in Corydon.
The phase II proposal will build a main line of 115 miles of fiber-optic backbone in the county. From that main line, a secondary build will occur, adjoining roads up to one mile in either direction.
The agreement between the Foundation and Mainstream gives a time line of 16 months to have the backbone infrastructure in place.
A $5 service fee for customers will begin the process of paying back the HCCF's expenses and, eventually, the county's $2 million.
Byrne tried to amend a motion to approve the agreement by assuring the contract between Mainstream and the Foundation be made public.
He was asked if he wanted it to be made public to just the council and commissioners or the general public.
"To me, that's the same thing," Byrne said.
The amendment died with a lack of a second, and the motion to approve the agreement passed 5-1 (Councilwoman Jennie Capelle was absent, but expressed her support for the project through Council Chair Gary Davis).
Before the vote, Dave Hulsebus, owner of Portative Technology, said the project is a subsidized advantage over the competition, like himself, that paid to do it themselves.
Councilwoman Holli Castetter said the project will not cover the county 100 percent and there will be room for other providers.
"As George said, it's a big tool in the tool box," she said.
Newly-elected Harrison County Democratic Party Chair Kim Bary also spoke and said a $450 install fee is a lot of money.
"I balked at $99 for satellite (installation)," she said. "I waited until they offered it for free."
She said she agreed with Byrne that they should give it a try first.
"Don't just jump," she said. "That's a lot of money."
Davis gave insight on the funding used for the project and said it will come out of the interest of the principal, not the money coming into the fund, as was the case in two previous instances that the community fund was used (Government Center and Harrison County Hospital).
"I wasn't on the council at the time, and I wouldn't have voted in favor," he said of the funding for those two projects.
Davis said the community fund would have almost $25 million more in it if those projects hadn't been approved or were funded differently.
Mainstream officials said they have almost 3,000 people signed up online requesting service.
To sign up for potential service, residents can visit msfiber.servicezones.net/harrison to show interest.
Mainstream will provide service to the areas showing the most interest first.
Notice will be sent to all clients in a service area who have signed up when a zone is ready.
Residential service will come in three levels and prices ranges: $59.95 per month, $79.95 and $99.95, depending on megabytes per second download and upload speed (25/10, 50/20 or 100/30, respectively).
The installation fee for each customer will be $450.
Each customer will receive a month of free service for each year of contracted service. Mainstream also will offer affordable pricing for poverty-level clients (24-month period to pay $450 install fee and 80 percent of the above monthly rates).
Mainstream also offers small-business packages with phone lines.