Updated: Nov 18, 2021
MOUND CITY– Peoples Telecommunications LLC representatives Jennifer Johnson-Leach and Jim McAtee met with the Linn County Commissioners on Monday, Oct. 4, to provide an update on present projects the utility company is undertaking and what it wants to get accomplished.
Johnson-Leach reminded the commissioners of the county meeting where people were desperately wanting broadband Internet service on the west side of the county. She said that they were working on that, and even though the utility is a not a non-profit organization, they were trying to get to Parker.
She said that now they are working on a project of taking their fiber-optic line to a tower between Parker and La Cygne. She asked commissioners if there was any kind of relief for the amount of permits they were requesting.
McAtee pointed out that they were going to need a lot of permits for road crossings on this 5.5 mile job. The project will get Peoples cable within two miles of Parker.
Johnson-Leach said that she had been working with Linn County Economic Development Director Jessica Hightower and there was talk about using some funds from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) to help with this project.
Linn County Counselor Gary Thompson told the commissioners that when the pipeline had gone through the county, the county had set up a blanket amount of fees that covered the whole project so that the company would not have to keep coming to commission meetings.
Johnson-Leach said that Linn County had areas that were not just underserved but also unserved by the Internet.
She said they would go to each house along the route and “spider out” to provide service to homes along the way as best they could.
Johnson-Leach explained that Peoples can receive funding for areas in their service area, but Parker is outside of that area. The ARPA money has to be used for underserved or unserved areas. A company cannot come in and build over Craw-Kan or CenturyLink.
McAtee said that Peoples cannot cross into another company’s territory and give them dial tone, but the company can give them Internet service.
Johnson-Leach pointed out that it is important to get it in the Parker area because when COVID-19 hit and children needed to be attending a virtual classroom at home, they were not able to because of the lack of Internet.
She said the problem with CenturyLink, a Louisiana-based telephone company, is that areas the company serve in Linn County don’t make money for the company. CenturyLink has already maxed out on upgrading its plant, so anyone wanting to get Internet service through that company only has phone line.
The company does offer DSL Internet service to homes up to three miles out from their plant.
Johnson-Leach said CenturyLink has chosen not to invest in its plant. That leaves it open for other companies like Peoples to offer it to those areas.
Thompson said the county could talk with its grant administrator about how to set up the application for companies to apply for the ARPA funds.
Following the presentation, commissioners approved the project permit with no fees due at this time until the details can be worked on how to get fees from the grant money.
In a separate interview, Johnson-Leach said the company had been contracted to run fiber-optic line to the tower by another company. However, she added that running the cable would be a start to push Peoples Internet service area further west.
However, to continue, Peoples would need grant funding or other financing to make it work. “It’s not a moneymaker on our own,” she said.
She suggested that ARPA, a bill meant to support projects like expanding Internet service, would make the expansion to western Linn County possible. The county is set to receive $1.88 million under ARPA.
“We want to help people, we just need funding,” Johnson-Leach said.
Because it is early in the process, she said she could not speculation on what a basic Internet plan might cost through Peoples. However, she said it would likely be different than what the company’s phone customers pay because it would be a non-regulatory service.
But she also said that their company was committed to helping people in the area. “Peoples is building relationships by helping the people of Linn County,” Johnson-Leach added.