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Orchard City plots its own way to broadband

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The Town of Orchard City has taken a different approach from other county municipalities on the broadband issue.

That doesn't mean the town won't be participating in the Region 10 broadband network project. It means, in the town board's view, that they are taking their time and evaluating their options.

The county's other five municipalities voted in November to "opt out" of state provisions limiting municipal participation with information technology service. In Orchard City, the question wasn't even on the ballot. The Orchard City trustees had essentially decided to "opt out" of "opting out," at least for the time being.

The Orchard City Town Board's approach has been to wait and see. The trustees want more information about the many broadband promises that have been circulating in the county for months.

It would have cost Orchard City about $2,500 to place an opt-out question on the November coordinated election ballot. The board chose instead to complete its 2016 budget, first taking into full account any impacts that opting out would have on town finances.

There will be a municipal election in April. It will cost the town nothing extra to place an opt-out question on the ballot in April and, if approved by voters, it will not hinder the town's ability to become "part of" the Region 10 project, trustees reasoned.

Now that the town's 2016 budget is complete and adopted, it shows that Orchard City does intend to spend money on local broadband, if voters approve.

The 2016 budget sets aside $50,000, "Funding to Region 10 for Broadband middle mile from the Fruitgrowers' Reservoir to Tank Hill for approximately 3.37 miles for the creation of a carrier neutral location."

The Delta County Commissioners have pledged up to $753,000 to make sure each community can have a carrier-neutral location within its jurisdiction. In Orchard City's case, the town wants to have that location moved from the Fruitgrower's Road DMEA substation up to Tank Hill. The $50,000 is to pay the cost of that relocation and the fiberoptic cable that will service it.

According to town officials, from atop of Tank Hill, access to a wireless broadband service can be made available to local Internet service providers to broadcast Internet service for fee to individuals and businesses in town -- a service that would be prohibitively expensive by stringing fiberoptic cable throughout the rural areas of the town.

The town board has determined so far that it doesn't need to be in the telecommunications business. Neither have the trustees selected any "anchor institutions" in the town limits that it wants to pay to be included in the Region 10 broadband system.Gigabit-speed broadband isn't needed for conducting any of the town's own operations, officials say.

In November, the other county municipalities, along with county residents, voted strongly in favor of allowing their local governments to sidestep the state law restricting government from participating in the telecommunications business.

In the hope of better, faster Internet access, voters gave their local governments carte blanche to enter the telecommunications business in any manner that it may see fit. But whether that means simply leasing space on town property to a private Internet provider -- something which local governments could have done anyway without voting to opt out -- or becoming full-blown Internet service providers themselves, as DMEA is considering, is a question that will await an answer sometime in the future.

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