County to seek proposals for countywide broadband service

COLUMBUS, Ind. — The ongoing effort to make countywide broadband internet service available locally is likely to become more competitive.

Bartholomew County government is now advertising for proposals from all interested vendors for the installation of countywide fiber broadband service. The bids will be open by the three county commissioners during their weekly 10 a.m. meeting on Monday, Dec. 20.

Three months ago, the commissioners approved a letter of intent with a New York City infrastructure investment company to install fiber-optic lines to the vast majority of Bartholomew County. Fiber-optic lines provide what is needed for gig-speed upload and download capabilities on modern computers.

One caveat originally requested by Meridiam Infrastructure North America Corp. was that the New York company be allowed to become the exclusive provider of new fiber-optic cables for 25 years. In exchange, Meridiam was willing to bring the potential of high speed internet to 85% of all Bartholomew County homes outside the Columbus city limits.

While the three commissioners unanimously approved the letter on Sept. 27, commissioners Chairman Larry Kleinhenz said he would ask Meridiam to guarantee minimum coverage to 90% of all non-municipal homes. He also said he would attempt to negotiate even further in order to raise the coverage area to 95%.

In announcing the request for proposals this week, commissioner Tony London said the county will be investing $4 million from their American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds into countywide broadband service. The county received about $8 million last spring in ARPA funds, while the remaining $8.2 million will be received in 2022, county Auditor Pia O’Connor said.

“Because of this investment, we want to make sure every provider that wants to look at this project can give a proposal,” London said this week. “We want to look at all of them, because we don’t want anyone to feel like they are not welcome to participate in this process.”

For the complete story, see Friday’s Republic.