TAWAS CITY — Iosco County Board of Commission members voted unanimously to enlist project advisory services to generate a public-private partnership (RFP) request for rural broadband internet services in an ongoing effort to win broadband internet services for Iosco County .
The consulting services, DCS Technology Design LLC, will cost $45,000 to facilitate the project, which could result in the county receiving federal grants to develop the county’s Internet infrastructure — particularly fiber optic connections to homes and businesses.
This would serve rural areas better, according to Jamie Soboleski, Iosco County Controller and Finance Direct, who sits on the committee formed by Develop Iosco.
The consultant was hired after a unanimous vote by the Commissioners, following a recommendation from Develop Iosco, with Commissioner Terry Dutcher motioning to have the firm discontinued and Commissioner James Miner supporting the motion.
Soboleski said the Develop Iosco Broadband Advisory Committee met and discussed hiring a company that would present state grant officials with a plan for how the public/private company would operate in Iosco County. If those grantors approved the plan, they could fund the projects in the county with federal grant money.
So far, the group is speaking to Mercury Wireless, Spectrum, Presque Isle Electric and Consumers Energy, according to Develop Iosco. According to Develop Iosco representatives, a planned event with the companies will take place in Oscoda in September.
“This is very exciting news for everyone here and for everyone throughout Iosco County,” Soboleski said. “There are several areas that are underserved in terms of good internet service. Ensuring we have high-speed broadband is imperative for education, healthcare, and economic development. There are very large amounts of dollars that will flow from federal agencies to the state of Michigan — we’re talking billions of dollars — but they estimate it will still not be enough to cover all underserved areas.”
Soboleski said that’s why it’s a good idea to create a plan to get the grant funding so Iosco Count doesn’t get left in the dust. She said the county is already “ahead of the game” with Develop Iosco’s work. on the project.
Gloria Brooks, president of Develop Iosco, told commissioners that when the group learned they could get grants, they immediately went to work and formed a broadband committee to work with the county to secure the upcoming grants from the state.
“We’ve met with the office of Sen. Gary Peters on this issue, and the next step really is for us as a county to issue a public-private partnership tender to vendors and apply for that money.”
Brooks said that with any major project, especially a grant application, it needs an expert or engineer to lead the work.
“As far as Gloria and I know, we’re not broadband experts,” Soboleski said. “We did our homework, we spoke to a few different references, one from Connected Nation and one for DCS Technologies.”
Soboleski said the consultant can meet with vendors, view bids and estimates they have submitted, and do other work. She said she looked at the references and in the investigation strongly recommended DCS Technologies lead the prosecution.”
“The references said we would be stupid if we didn’t take them,” she said.
Soboleski told commissioners she knew the counseling was expensive, and said funds from the county’s American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) could be tapped to pay for the counseling project, which is estimated to take at least four months to complete.
“I would recommend that we take this step with ARPA funds to get this guy on our side and get some of those billions of dollars into Iosco County,” she said.
Brooks told commissioners that hiring an advisor would be a non-starter if they wanted to pursue grant funding. She said the group has deals with large communities like Washtenaw County, as well as coastal communities like Iosco County, and asked the commissioners to help with the request.
Miner asked Brooks what exactly is meant by a public-private partnership.
She said the partnership would be with a private company, which would use funds granted by the federal government to create more internet access, whether that’s running more internet fiber lines or meeting other needs — which are very expensive out of pocket – to bring the internet to rural corners of the county.
She said the best way to communicate this landscape is with the advisor, who is an expert.
“I think the biggest challenge we have is decoding all this language, we’ve really looked into that,” Brooks said. “We want to be part of the pick of the provider that comes into the county and make sure they get through because the dollars would end up coming through us to them. That’s why this partnership is important, it’s not just about a company chasing dollars, we’ll have a lot more detail on how it’s thriving.”
Vice Chair Charles Finley said he was pleased with all the work Develop Iosco and the county have done to get internet access in the community.
“I want to thank Gloria and the group,” he said. “If you look at the members of the team, you have a championship team there. This will move Iosco County forward and is badly needed.
Miner said he thinks the group is doing a good job too. He also stressed the need for more internet access in today’s society.
“I think internet access used to be a luxury, but now it’s just as needed as water or sewage or electricity,” he said.
After discussion, the Board of Directors voted unanimously to commission the consulting firm.