The Escambia County Commission voted Monday to enter into an agreement with Escambia River Electric Cooperative to bring high-speed fiber internet directly to thousands of homes and businesses in rural northern Escambia County, potentially as early as next summer.
Escambia County will contribute $6 million in federal American Rescue Plan Act funds to the project in the EREC franchise area, which is located roughly north of Barrineau Park Road. EREC will provide the balance of the project estimated between 23 and 24 million dollars or seek other grants and funding.
“4,200 to 4,300 homes and businesses, or every home and business in their footprint,” District 5 Commissioner Steven Barry said. “It’s fiber for each of them. That’s nearly 700 miles of fiber, 500 air, 200 underground. And what’s been negotiated is a $6 million contribution from the county’s ARPA funds.
Three basic speed levels are offered:
- 100Mbps/100Mbps — $49.95/month
- 1GB/1GB — $79.95/month
- 2GB/2GB — $99.95/month
Under the Affordable Connectivity Program, CPA, Lifeline and other low-income benefits will be reduced by $30 per month, or as low as $19.95 per month.
EREC is a member cooperative founded in 1939.
“I couldn’t be more excited to move forward with a partnership with EREC. The opportunity to bring true high-speed fiber optic Internet access to every home and business in their service area is a dream come true,” Barr said. “Using only federal dollars, thousands of residents will have access to something that is crucial, and Escambia County has the ability to partner with EREC, a cooperative that belongs to our friends and neighbors. It is truly a blessing to be able to bring access to this service to rural areas neglected by Internet Service Providers for so long.
“We are very pleased to learn of the Escambia County award,” said EREC CEO Ryan Campbell. “All of us at Escambia River Electric Cooperative are looking forward to bringing broadband fiber to unserved and underserved homes and businesses in this rural county. We are in the very early design phase and look forward to communicating more on our plans in early 2023.”
EREC’s fiber ring will also connect approximately two dozen county-owned facilities in the cooperative’s service area.
EREC will partner with Conexon Connect on the proposal.
“Conexon Connect primarily works with electricity cooperatives, building networks using a methodology and architecture that allows cooperatives to leverage their existing infrastructure, thereby providing reliable and affordable broadband service to 100% of their members” , according to the company’s website.
The county commission’s vote at a special meeting Monday afternoon was to negotiate a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with EREC and provide support as EREC applies for grants from the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity. The MOU will return to the BOCC for final approval at a future meeting.
The vote was 4 to 1, with newly elected District 2 Commissioner Mike Kohler voting no after saying he hadn’t had time to read and familiarize himself with the program materials.
“I can’t vote for something if I don’t have complete knowledge about it, and I don’t,” he said.
Other proposals were received from Cox Communications, Florida Power & Light’s sister company NextCity Networks, and C-Spire Fiber.
Cox proposed connecting around 2,500 homes, while NextCity Networks proposed taking up to 10 years to deliver fiber to homes.
Escambia County initially solicited proposals to provide fiber to homes north of 10 Mile Road, with another RFP coming soon for the area south of 10 Mile Road. The county has committed up to $10 million in the area north of 10 Mile Road, and an additional $12 for the area south.
Acceptance of EREC’s $6 million proposal for an area further north of 10 Mile Road will move the second phase roughly south of Barrineau Park Road.
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