Broadband Council Gives Description of the O&M Broadband Contract with CityNet
At the January 12, 2023 Broadband Council Meeting, Sarah Riley said that the Operations and Maintenance Agreement (or O&M Agreement) between the county and the Internet Service Provider (ISP) CityNet has now been finalized and is public record. Riley said this agreement, which specifically relates to the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) Grant Project, will serve as a blueprint agreement for future broadband agreements in the county, and will likely serve as a blueprint for other counties to use as well in their broadband projects. She described the agreement as “one of our biggest accomplishments as a Broadband Council, a significant milestone.”
Riley explained that Pocahontas County will own the project until the end of the ARC Grant, upon which time it will be transferred to CityNet as long as CityNet is doing a good job operating the service. She said even after ownership is transferred; the county will retain some strands of the fiber for any use the county wants. The agreement also requires CityNet, if they lease out some of the fiber strands to any third party, such as another ISP, that a percentage of the income CityNet derives from that lease will go to the county. Riley said the county will also receive 5% of the the fees residents pay CityNet for providing customers Internet service. She said under this agreement, CityNet will also handle all of the maintenance, customer care and service calls for the Internet service, which also includes CityNet notifying the county, and all of the customers, if there is an outage.
Mike Holstein added that under this agreement, the county agreed to keep up with this project, even when the ARC Grant ends, and not to “just leave the project linger.” At that time, the county will determine if CityNet is doing a good job running the service, and if not, CityNet could be removed. He added that this is a great agreement for the county, and the Broadband Council should be very proud of the job they did negotiating this agreement.
Cory Nipper, an Engineer with the Thompson & Litton Company (T&L,) who have been hired to help get the project going, told the council that they are working closely with CityNet to get permits for all the first energy poles that will also be used for the project’s fiber-optic lines. He said everything else is also going smoothly, including the environmental coordination, which was completed a few months ago and they are now just waiting to hear back from the Army Corps of Engineers about that.
There was some discussion about the difference between the O&M agreement Roane County executed with CityNet for their Broadband Project, in which Roane County retained ownership of 50% of the fiber strands, which could allow them to bring in an additional ISP, while here, Pocahontas County is only retaining ownership of a much smaller percentage of the project’s fiber strands. It was explained that Roane county’s project was much more expensive since they are installing 288-strand fiber in Roane County while the Pocahontas County project will only install 144-strand fiber. CityNet has explained they will need most of the 144 strands to service all the Pocahontas County customers. CityNet has agreed to come to a future Broadband Council Meeting to further explain this and let the council know how much more it would cost the county to install the 288-strand fiber, but that would allow the county to retain ownership of 50% of the strands.
Additionally at the meeting, it was announced that the USDA Community Connect Grants are not yet accepting applications, but CityNet is determining the county communities they can target to provide broadband service to under those grants when the applications open.
Ruthana Beezley said that given the short window to challenge the FCC’s broadband service maps, we did as good a job getting the word out to people to challenge the map as was possible. The council will contact our two U.S. Senators to try and get the FCC to reopen the challenge period.