We’ve been documenting the long and involved broadband stimulus program for over 18 months now. We all knew that any government program of this size would not move quickly. But the fruit of the broadband stimulus program’s labor is beginning to bloom. Rural Telephone Service of Hays, Kansas is beginning to put customers in service as a direct result of the program, representing what is most likely the first example of actual new broadband customers to be served as a direct result of the broadband stimulus program (although there are no official records of ‘firsts’ being recorded, at least none that we could find).
“It’s hard to put an actual number on the exact number of customers in service as a result of the program, but we estimate it to be about 200 new customers in service so far,” Rhonda Goddard, COO of Rural Telephone Service (RTS), tells me. “We’re adding more and more everyday,” Larry Sevier, CEO of RTS chimes in. These new customers are a combination of new, previously unserved broadband customers, as well as existing RTS dial-up Internet subscribers, or underserved customers, who thanks to the $101 million broadband stimulus project, now have access to FTTH services.
Rural Telephone’s ambitious project was one of the first approved by the broadband stimulus program, receiving official approval back in January 2010 from the Rural Utilities Service (RUS) BIP portion of the program. “We were so comfortable with RUS and their process, that we actually began engineering and construction of the project prior to receiving actual funds. That gave us a jump start on the project,” Sevier tells me. New customers were put in service as far back as July 2010 and new exchanges continue to be turned up today. Sevier says they’re on a three year construction timeline to complete the project.
Details of the RTS broadband stimulus project include:
- $101 Million in funding – $49+ million in grants and a $51+ million loan
- Coverage for 23,000 households/businesses and 335 anchor institutions across 11 counties and 21 towns, covering 4,600 square miles of western Kansas
- Combination of FTTP and WiMax
- Up to 17 new employees for Rural Telephone / Nex-Tech
The project was so big, RTS hired seven engineering and construction firms, some of whom hired new workers for the project, contributing to the broadband stimulus program’s goal of creating jobs. The initial focus of the project is FTTH, but RTS also intends to use WiMAX in future builds. “We’ve encountered some unexpected environmental clearance issues for WiMAX towers which is delaying that portion of the project,” says Sevier.
Sevier and Goddard tell me that this project will improve RTS’ broadband availability coverage from about 80% (pre stimulus project) to 95% (post stimulus project), while an impressive improvement, also illustrating the ongoing challenge of universal broadband for rural territories.
For Sevier and RTS, it’s business as usual. “Seems like we’re just moving from one major broadband project to another,” Sevier tells me, in reference to a recently completed non-stimulus funded $70 million broadband project where RTS deployed FTTP in several former Sprint exchanges. “Our employees live in these communities and are anxious to bring broadband there and provide the best customer service possible,” says Sevier.