There is interest in providing broadband access in Joplin as people hired to search for the service gather information on potential contractors or suppliers, the city council said Monday evening.
A request for information from broadband providers was issued on behalf of the city last month. City officials then hired a company, Alvarez and Marsal Infrastructure and Capital Projects of Washington, DC, to advise on the project.
Riz Shah, managing director of this company working with Joplin, spoke at the meeting about what has been learned so far.
“We want to make sure this shot here is one that makes sense, not just in terms of pretty picture dynamics,” Shah said.
Shah’s group looked at how other towns are getting more broadband, then started spreading information about Joplin’s status.
Another adviser to the project, James Pittman, said a request for information had been widely circulated in the broadband market, knowing that some companies would be willing to invest in a business partnership to build a network and/or provide a service.
“We know there’s a good chance an ISP will invest,” he said.
Shah said based on what they have learned so far, a request for proposals will likely be issued in October.
Jack Schaller, vice president of engineering firm Olsson, said advisers were also considering how a service might be funded unless someone was prepared to make all the investments. He said they intended to review the availability of grants. Currently, grant opportunities are available for rural broadband projects, but some long-term grants will be available that will be more suitable for Joplin.
Council was informed that applying for and winning a grant is competitive and that the city will need to provide good data in order to have a chance of obtaining funding.
The consultants will look for ways to raise funds and develop a fundraising strategy, which could involve investment by a supplier or involve city funding or a partnership.
The request for information resulted in around 45 responses, and there could be around 16 respondents submitting a proposal once these are sought, the board was told.
“It confirmed that this is a feasible project for Joplin and that suppliers want to come to Joplin,” Shah said.
Acting Mayor Keenan Cortez said he would like to see more businesses respond or agree to provide services to reduce costs for residents. He asked if 16 answers were significant. Shah said yes and that local and national vendors are expected to submit proposals.
City officials began exploring the need for faster, more reliable service about four years ago, which included work in 2020 by an appointed steering committee of community leaders to develop a technology plan for Joplin. Internet access was at the top of a list of priorities established by the committee. This led the city to commission a broadband analysis study which was completed last year.
This study determined that many residents have spotty Internet service or cannot get service in all areas of the city. Many residents rely on cell phones for online access because they cannot afford home service. Needs became acute during the COVID-19 pandemic when students needed internet connections to attend virtual classes and people wanted to connect to doctors and other healthcare professionals remotely rather than making walk-ins. person, according to the study.
In other matters, the panel approved an annual agreement between the city and the Missouri Department of Transportation to allow the Joplin Metropolitan Planning Organization to receive funding for much of the cost of street and street projects. planning area highways.
DFO will spend $1,130,759 and $828,862 will be reimbursed by the federal grant as well as $75,745 from the Federal Transportation Administration.
The board also approved the demolition of dilapidated properties at 2201 S. Empire Ave., 802 E. Langston Hughes-Broadway and 827 S. Empire Ave, at a cost of $3,800 to $3,900 each.
Council will meet every evening from Tuesday to Thursday to consider the proposed municipal budget for 2023.