MOUND CITY – Before meeting with the telecommunication companies that bid on installing broadband on the west side of Linn County on Monday, April 25, County Counselor Gary Thompson presented figures from the two proposals to the Linn County Commissioners; La Cygne-based Peoples Telecommunications and Iola-based KwiKom each submitted a proposal.
The county initially discussed using a portion of the $1.9 million American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) to improve Internet service to rural areas that were underserved, in accordance with the terms of the grant. However, recent changes to the guidelines for the ARPA grant has allowed more flexibility in how the funds are used.
There is an indication that a decision about expanding Internet service in the more rural areas of the county will be decided soon by the commission.
Thompson told the commissioners that Peoples Telecommunications proposal said that company would make 150 connections going to Parker for the total cost of nearly $419,000. Thompson said that would make the cost of each connection about $2,800.
Under the 80/20-match proposal, the county would pay for 80 percent of that cost, or $334,900. Each of the 150 connections would cost the county more than $2,200, said Thompson.
Thompson said the total figure in KwiKom Communication’s proposal was nearly $1.12 million for connecting to 399 locations for a cost of nearly $2,800 per connection. KwiKom proposed working on a 50/50 match with the county at a total cost to the county of $558,000. The county’s portion for each connection would be about $1,450.
KwiKom would be covering the cities and unincorporated towns of Parker, Goodrich, Centerville and Blue Mound.
Commissioner Rick James asked what other expenditures had come out of the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds and what other entities had expressed interest in the funds.
Economic Development Director Jessica Hightower said that nothing had been taken out. Some water districts had expressed interest in the funds as well as Southeast Kansas Mental Health Center.
The commissioners have also committed $95,000 to the Southeast Kansas Regional Planning Commission (SEKRPC) for administration of the $1.9 million ARPA grant.
Jennifer Leach, general manager for Peoples Telecommunications, met with the commissioners and said that she had used the 80/20 match figure because most of their other grants were on that match. She said she might be able to work out a different match.
Leach said that every house or business that they counted probably would not decide to hook up to the Peoples network. In running fiber-optic cable to a Verizon tower southeast of Parker recently, eight of the 12 houses that the company installed nearby chose to hook up, she said. The tower project put Peoples cable network within two miles of Parker at this point.
KwiKom Operations Manager Eric Vogel started to point out that their cost for the county or the taxpayer was less and Thompson said that he had already figured that and repeated what he had told the commissioners earlier.
When Thompson repeated what he had already told the commissioners that the cost for the county or the cost for the taxpayer for Peoples cost was $2,332 and that KwiKom was $1,453, Leach jumped in and asked, “How much property tax does KwiKom pay Linn County?”
Commissioner Rick James asked why she saw that as important to the issue?
Leach said that she (or her company) had been here for 108 years paying taxes to Linn County and she thought that should be considered.
Thompson asked Vogel if not having Parker was a deal killer, and asked Leach if she would take a 50/50 match like KwiKom.
Vogel said KwiKom was open to that, but the problem was that it would not be able to reduce its cost much to do that. The actual cost to build in the city of Parker is very minimal, while installing the cable to get there is the hard part. He said he thought KwiKom could probably reduce the overall project cost by about $100,000 which would probably be about $50,000 savings to the county.
Vogel said that Kwikom still had to go through Parker to get to Blue Mound and Centerville. He said that they would be picking up just north and south of the cities and Goodrich. Vogel said that there are a few farms along the way that they would not be able to pick up today but the other thing to note is that there are hand holes all the way along the route which are being set up for future fiber to the farm.
So when you see the federal dollars come out for fiber to the farm, this is already set up for that, he said. Adding that for now the company would not be connecting every single farm along the way.
Vogel said that the turn around on KwiKom’s repairs is usually the same day. He said he would be anticipating that if KwiKom installed the cable in Linn County, it would be hiring a couple of people for repairs in the county. He added that KwiKom currently has field technicians within 30 minutes of its service areas.
Vogel encouraged the commissioners to look at the price of the service. He handed out price sheets of the costs for the customers.
KwiKom’s prices are:
$55 month for unlimited data up to 50 Mbps download, up to 10 Mbps upload;
$65 for up to 250 Mbps download, up to 50 Mbps upload;
$85 up to 500 Mbps download, up to 100 Mbps upload;
and gigamax fiber for $105 month for up to 1000 Mbps download, up to 200 Mbps upload.
KwiKom does not require a contract, and does not have a cap on network use.
Leach said she did not have a cost sheet. However, the rates according to Peoples website are:
$65 for 25 Megabits per second (Mbps) of unlimited download service, 5 Mbps of upload ;
$85 for 50 Mbps, upload 10 Mbps; $95 for 100 Mbps download, 15 Mbps upload;
$115 for 150 Mbps download, 25 Mbps upload; $125 for 200 Mbps download, and 25 Mbps upload.
It also offers a one gig service download and 25 Mbps upload which price is still being determined.
According to its website, Peoples requires a two-year contract. It does not have a cap on network use either.
Leach told the commissioners that Peoples is not going from county to county looking for money like KwiKom. Our interest is right here where our home is, she said.
Leach reminded the commissioners that the Peoples’ proposal had letters from the library, one of the senators, and the school district.
KwiKom Business Development Director John Terry asked what would happen if the state awarded Peoples the Parker grant that they have applied for. Leach said they were probably not getting that grant.
Vogel said he would like to end it on a good note. He said that KwiKom had absolutely no animosity with Peoples. He said KwiKom had a good working relationship with Peoples and that he respected the company.
In a later phone conversation, Leach said her passion was with her company for what it does for its employees and its customers. She said that it wasn’t about padding the company’s pockets but about investing back into the community.
The difference in the two companies, is the business model versus the community model, said Leach.
Leach said that Peoples offers any way and every way they could help the community like helping with the La Cygne Park and working with Prairie View USD 362 by giving out five scholarships and donating to the FFA and FBLA. Peoples also gives two scholarships to Louisburg USD 416 students.
Vogel said we are all small town people just like everybody here. We all care about the people in the small communities and small counties.
In a statement sent by email following the meeting, Vogel said it was true that KwiKom has had many discussions with neighboring cities and counties regarding broadband expansion, but he didn't see that as a negative.
“KwiKom has always had a passion for providing the fastest, unlimited, contract-free internet available at a price people can actually afford in traditionally underserved areas,” he continued. “This passion created a business model that has allowed us to organically grow to serve thousands of rural, underserved Kansans in many counties including neighboring Anderson and Miami counties, both of which we have participated in successful partnerships with to expand broadband infrastructure.
“We appreciate Linn county's desire to expand this critical infrastructure to the Western part of the county and we look forward to future partnership opportunities with the county to continue expanding broadband throughout Linn County.”
In the commission meeting, there was discussion about new funding that President Joe Biden had just announced for rural broadband. Vogel said that there was $42 billion that was supposed to be allocated to rural fiber. The state of Kansas has received its initial $100 million and they are still formulating what they were going to do with that.
Leach said that what upset her was that areas like Paola that are saturated with Internet companies often get that funding instead of areas that have no access to Internet.
Vogel said that his concern was that company’s like CenturyLink and AT&T would suck those dollars up and do nothing with them. Louisiana-based CenturyLink provides landline telephone service to the western portion of Linn County, but only provides slow DSL Internet service in a small radius around the towns.
Vogel said that by going with KwiKom’s installation from Parker to Blue Mound, the county is building a backbone down the western part of Linn County that is poised to put those dollars to use.
He said that he knew that the state of Kansas is very interested in not giving those dollars to CenturyLink and companies like that. Officials want those dollars to actually go out to the people. He added that he had some hope that would happen.
He said that he hoped that, since it was going through the state rather than the federal government, it would be used through the smaller companies to bring service to the rural areas.
James said he would like to get the Internet issue decided next week.