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Gage County moves forward with broadband project

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Oliver Borchers-Williams

Oliver Borchers-Williams, who specializes in broadband development for Southeast Nebraska Development District, addresses the Gage County Board of Supervisors Wednesday morning. The board is pursuing a contract with Nextlink to bring broadband internet access to rural Gage County.

Officials in Gage County took an important step this week toward bringing broadband service to rural residents.

The Board of Supervisors approved several items during Wednesday’s regular meeting related to a rural broadband project, opting to move forward with Nextlink Internet and pursue contract negotiations.

In late January the board called for project bids, and received proposals from three companies.

Board member Emily Haxby, who spearheaded the plan, said the proposal from Nextlink was the option that would benefit the most people of Gage County.

“When we talk about broadband, we are helping farmers in the field, people working from home, kids being able to do their homework and more,” Haxby said. “This impact would be far reaching. Medicine, education, agriculture, businesses, the list goes on. This would do so much, not just for the people and businesses in our county, but it would also help the people of our county further reach other parts of the state, nation and beyond… Our subcommittee unanimously recommends moving forward with contract negotiations with Nextlink. Their proposal covered a significant part of rural Gage County with fiber. They will hit about 1,000 homes in the next two years and their cost per month was about $30 less than the next closest applicant.”

The plan to add broadband to many areas of northern Gage County – it was stated Wednesday that much of the southern portions are too rocky to bury fiber lines – was launched after Gage County was awarded just over $4 million in American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 (ARPA) funds last year that are earmarked for water, sewer or broadband projects.

Oliver Borchers-Williams, who specializes in broadband development for Southeast Nebraska Development District, said the need for quality rural broadband service became clear during the pandemic.

“The need for improved connectivity in much of rural Gage County became abundantly clear during the COVID-19 pandemic, as residents found themselves with insufficient bandwidth to attend online classes, work remotely, receive tele-healthcare and stream Sunday services,” he said. “ARPA funds provided the county with a once-in-a-generation opportunity.”

Under the proposal all of the funds awarded to Gage County would be put toward the project, with the company awarded the project picking up the remainder of the cost over time.

County Board Chairman Erich Tiemann said the project will represent a significant investment in Gage County.

“Nextlink, if we work out a contract here, will be building or buying a facility in Gage County and operating a permanent service center,” Tiemann said. “This should be an incredible step forward for Gage County as far as broadband connectivity. It’s incredible, this is the direction things are going.

“We talked about how to make that $4.2 million into more. We didn’t want to take that and just purchase something.”

The total project is estimated to be up to a $12 million investment in Gage County.

Haxby has previously stated Gage County will not contribute any funds to the project, other than the awarded ARPA dollars.

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