Council OKs broadband abatement

Jackson County REMC plans to deliver service to customers in 10 counties

BROWNSTOWN

A regional cooperative’s plans to make high-speed broadband service available to all of its customers through a fiber-to-the-home connection could have broader implications for southern Indiana.

Those include attracting new businesses and supporting the needs of agriculture and agribusiness in rural parts of Jackson County and parts of nine other counties served by Jackson County REMC, company officials report.

Those officials with the member-owned rural electric cooperative discussed the project Wednesday while asking Jackson County Council members to approve a $5.43 million abatement for the project during a council meeting at the sheriff’s department in Brownstown.

“Broadband connectivity has gone from being a luxury to a necessity,” REMC general manager Mark McKinney said.

The purpose of the project, which will lead to five new jobs this year and five more in 2018, is to help prepare the company for the current and future needs of its 20,000 members.

Jim Plump, executive director of Jackson County Industrial Development Corp., said the project is similar in substance to one that began almost 80 years ago when the Rural Electrification Administration was established to bring electricity to rural communities.

Plump, who presented the program to the council for REMC, said it’s a “win-win” for all involved because it will not only benefit the company and its customers but improve the quality of life for everyone.

He later said when it comes to marketing the county to potential industries, economic development officials try to eliminate reasons companies might choose to locate elsewhere. One of the ways to do that is to make sure infrastructure, including broadband, is in place. That’s especially helpful to companies trying to do business overseas.

Councilman Brian Thompson said he likes the project because it has the potential to attract business to rural parts of the county.

“It sets the climate for the next five or 10 businesses that look at locating here,” he said.

According to a news release from the company, the board of directors took several factors into consideration when making the decision to move forward with the project.

Those considerations include how the project can enhance the quality of life for members, meet the needs of agriculture and agribusiness, provide an enhanced path for education and health care opportunities and help keep the community viable.

The $5.43 million is the company’s initial investment for Phase 1 of the project, which has an overall price tag of $20 million just for Jackson County and $60 million systemwide. The initial work involves installing the mainline of the system.

“It touches almost all of our 10 counties and is the footprint for Phase 2,” McKinney said.

Besides Jackson County, REMC serves parts of Bartholomew, Brown, Clark, Jefferson, Jennings, Lawrence, Monroe, Scott and Washington counties.

Matt Persinger, REMC’s information technology coordinator, said Phase 1 involves running fiber optic to every substation and then between some of those substations to provide redundancy.

“As part of Phase 1, there will be a test area here close to the office,” Persinger said.

That test area contains about 990 members who will have the opportunity to be connected to the system.

Persinger said the company will use those connections to work out any issues with the system.

Phase 2 will see an expansion of the system to other areas depending upon the interest of members in each area.

“The key is to get the money coming in quickly,” McKinney said.

He said it will take about three years for the service to become cash positive and 16 years for the company to pay for its investment.

Overall, the project will take about five years to complete and could lead to additional jobs beyond the 10, Persinger said.

Electric service will not be affected during the project, and safe, reliable and affordable electric service will remain a key focus for the cooperative, McKinney said.

The council eventually voted to approve the abatement.

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Aubrey Woods is editor of The (Seymour) Tribune. He can be reached at awoods@tribtown.com or 812-523-7051.