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3/18/2017 7:10:00 PM
Harrison County Community Foundation proposes plan to fund fiber-optic initiative

Ross Schulz, Corydon Democrat

The Harrison County Council received a plan Monday night from the Harrison County Community Foundation to come up with the funding for the Mainstream fiber-optic high-speed Internet proposal.

The total cost of the phase II proposal, which will create a 115-mile backbone of high-speed fiber in the county, is $5 million.

Steve Gilliland, Foundation president and CEO, requested $2 million from the county.

The Foundation plans to borrow the remaining $3 million.

"The Harrison County Community Foundation Board of Directors wants to see this project proceed forth," Gilliland said.

The project will be spearheaded by three volunteers: Lisa Long, president of the Chamber of Commerce of Harrison County and secretary of Connect Harrison County Inc., Barbara Middleton, HCCF board vice chair, and David Lett, CEO of Harrison REMC.

Gilliland said the Foundation has hired former commissioner George Ethridge — somebody familiar with terminology and installation procedures — as project manager.

The council will have the opportunity to vote on the $2 million request at its next meeting, Monday, March 27, at 7 p.m. at the Government Center in south Corydon.

Councilman Gary Byrne said he would like to see the contract between Mainstream Fiber Networks and the Foundation before voting on the request.

Contract negotiations began yesterday (Tuesday), and Gilliland said they'll try to have it complete by the next council meeting.

Mainstream is in the process of completing the Corydon area portion of the project, which connects the Harrison County Government facilities. All buildings are now connected except for the highway garage south of town.

The phase II proposal will build a main line of 115 miles of fiber-optic backbone in the county. From that main line, a secondary build will occur, adjoining roads up to one mile in either direction.

The installation of service for customers will commence when the initial build-out is 25 percent complete.

Combined with the initial phase in and around Corydon, Mainstream will have the potential to serve 85 percent of all addresses in the county.

Mainstream representatives said the initial 115-mile backbone construction time is 12 to 15 months but warned utility easement delays could increase that time frame. Mainstream has a great working relationship with Harrison REMC, they said, but other non-local utility providers are not as easy to deal with.

The Foundation suggested the county could take $1 million directly out of its community fund and the remaining $1 million would be held out of receipts coming into the fund by $250,000 increments for four months.

The fund has performed exceptionally well this year with a strong market, according to Gilliland.

"We've gained $3 million so far," he said.

The council also will have the option to take the money out of riverboat gaming funds.

Later in the meeting, David Hulsebus, owner of Portative Technologies, an Internet provider in Harrison and Floyd counties, said he was not against the project in principle, but he thought the county was getting a bad deal by building the fiber lines and then turning them over to Mainstream for no cost (or $1 a year as has previously been suggested).

"I'm not sure you understand what it's going to mean to this county in the long run," he said.

He said the market worth of the fiber strands is approximately $8.3 million.

"So, to turn that asset over to an organization for $1 a year doesn't make a whole lot of fiscal sense to me, from a business perspective," he said. "I know this is going to happen. If they make it to the point that other companies cannot connect to this at a fair and equitable rate — I know what the fair and equitable rates are because I've checked with six companies that have fiber within this county today — you'll be doing a real disservice to the people of this community that are relying on you to make good decisions with their money."

Byrne said it would make more sense to not turn over the 72 fiber strands to Mainstream.

"Here's the way I look at it; you've got to assign some value to what they're going to do to manage and maintain this network for you," Hulsebus said. "It's not worth $8.28 million, plus $2.4 million a year (maintenance fee), is it? Does that sound like a good use of the people's money? Like I said, I'm not opposed to this. I'm opposed to the way it's being laid out and the way it's being structured."

He also said the company signing on 62 percent of addresses (Mainstream's goal of customer hook ups) is not going to happen, in his opinion.

"You'll be lucky to get 40 percent," he said.

Many people he's dealt with have said a $50 per month and $99 install fee is way too much money.

Hulsebus said he thought Mainstream will likely sign up 30 to 35 percent of residents.

Related Stories:
• Harrison County signs deal for 115 miles of $5 million fiber-optic backbone

Editor, John C. DePrez Jr.; Executive Editor, Carol Rogers; Publishers: IBRC and IAR

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