County rejects broadband proposal

Published 9:17 am Tuesday, January 3, 2023

The Harlan County Fiscal Court rejected a proposal for broadband internet service from Eastern Telephone and Technologies during the panel’s regular meeting for December.

Harlan County Judge-Executive Dan Mosley spoke to the magistrates about the proposal.

“As I shared last month, the actual proposal we received went under review after we looked at it,” Mosley said. “We’ve asked the Center for Rural Development in Somerset to assist us with this project because they are the broadband experts. They are the ones who know what is an accurate proposal and what’s going to cover your community and what isn’t.”

Mosley said the county requested the Center for Rural Development review the proposal.

“Unfortunately, I’m sad to report today that they determined the proposal we received is incomplete,” Mosley said. “We have so many federal requirements that we have to meet when you’re dealing with a grant – particularly a grant that’s funded by the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) – the way they’ve made us structure it would the be county would own the infrastructure and essentially own the system that the provider built. The provider would build this and then lease it from the county for a period of 20 years and provide the service.”

Mosley pointed out such an arrangement creates multiple problems for the provider.

“They would have to determine how they would insure the assets and the equipment when we own it,” Mosley said.

Mosley pointed out it would also have to be determined which entity would be responsible for the repair or replacement of broken equipment.

“It just creates a whole heap of problems,” Mosley said.

According to Mosley, Eastern Telephone and Technologies is the only provider to submit a proposal.

“We had a meeting last week with the Center for Rural Development to talk about the next steps and options,” Mosley said.

Mosley said that the Center for Rural Development recommended requesting the ARC change the requirements for how the system would be owned.

“Maybe instead of advertising for a project that we would pay for all the equipment that we would own, get the ARC to potentially allow us to advertise for a project in which we paid for the labor and constructions and the provider actually owned the equipment,” Mosley said. “The next step is we have to get the USDA Rural Development Agency to agree to this as well. They have to submit an amended scope of the project to the ARC.”

Mosley noted the goal is to provide communities with good broadband service. He mentioned some communities in Harlan County need a higher grade of internet service to work from home or complete online schoolwork.

“I was at one place in Bledsoe where they couldn’t even stream Netflix,” Mosley said. “It’s just unacceptable. There are providers that want to partner with us on this, but the way it’s written is preventing them from being able to partner with us.” Mosley told the magistrates a meeting is set up to address the issue early in January.

“Today, the only action we need would be to reject the proposal from Eastern Telephone and Technologies due to it being incomplete,” Mosley said.

Magistrate James Howard motioned to reject the proposal, seconded by Magistrate Paul Browning. The motion passed with no opposition.