Broadband improvement coming for Milam County
Broadband service is a huge part of our everyday life, both personal and business. Just about everybody uses the internet for everything from sending emails to watching a movie. It is especially critical for business. From small to large, just about every business relies on the internet to buy and sell. Clearly, good internet service is critical for everyone.
Milam County, like many rural counties, suffers in this area. We have a lot of good providers in the county, but it all comes down to money.
The quick and most economical way to provide broadband service is “fixed point wireless.” This requires a broadband connection and a transmitter from a tower. The signal goes out, much like a radio signal and is available to those who pay a fee for the service. However, there are issues with reliability (weather) and speed. Typically, wireless speeds in Milam County are about 25 Mbps download and 3 Mbps upload. While this meets the definition of “highspeed” it is low compared to what is becoming the more accepted standard of 100 Mbps download and 25 Mbps upload.
The best solution to the problem is providing fiber optic (hardwire) connections to every user. However, installing fiber optics costs roughly seven times more than installing a wireless system. Fiber optic installation works well in urban areas where there are a lot of users in close proximity of each other diffusing the expense of installation. But in rural areas this simply does not work as there is little chance of a return of investment for a long run of fiber with few users.
Your county government is patently aware of this issue and has been working on a solution for some time. We recently underwent a countywide survey performed by Connected Nation Texas to find out more about the speeds for service throughout the county. The survey was very helpful and paved the way for the next step: a grant application for better broadband. Last week, a grant opportunity arose and your Milam County government is now doing everything we can to take advantage of this unique opportunity.
This week in a special session the Milam County Commissioners Court took action to apply for a grant to provide fiber optic (hardwire) broadband service to the cities of Buckholts, Cameron, Milano, Gause, Rockdale and Thorndale.
The court agreed to apply for a multi-million dollar grant offered by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration to provide fiber optic end user service to the residents and businesses of these cities. The households and businesses in these cities represent about 5,000 of the 9,000 households in the county. The grant will be drafted by the County Judge’s office.
Providing fiber optic to the cities for this service will also improve the coverage and connectivity for those outside the cities. Many fixed-point wireless towers in the County operate without a fiber optic (hardwire) connection. More fiber optics in the County will allow many of the towers to be connected directly to the fiber and thus provide stronger signals. In fact, we anticipate having about 28 towers in the County directly connected to fiber optics.
The grant requires the County to partner with a private provider that will actually provide the service. Accordingly, the county is sending out a public competitive bid proposal for the work and the best applicant will be accepted. The grant must be submitted by Aug. 17, 2021, and a decision will be made by Dec. 1, 2021. Thereafter, work would be completed in about one year. The new service will provide speeds of 100 Mbps download and 25 Mbps upload.