Western Nebraska Observer - Observations all along the line - Kimball & the Southern Panhandle First

Energy cooperative eyeing broadband market

 


Kimball County Commissioners heard a request from County Tourism Director Jo Caskey, regarding broadband service and not only subsequently approved pre-enrollment for the High Point Welcome Center but will also consider the same for other Kimball County locations.

Caskey said that the current service at the High Point Welcome Center is unreliable,

“The problem with the satellite service is that every time the tower goes down, we go out,” Caskey said. In addition to satellite service, Kimball County also provides a cell phone for use at the welcome center as there is no land line.

The proposed service, presented by Brian Heithoff and Terry Steege from High West Digital Solutions, is high- speed, fiber optic, combination service – meaning cable is run both underground and above ground, and could potentially save members in the area a total of more than $400,000 annually.

Last August the High West team presented a business plan to their board. They have conducted surveys and are now seeking interested parties to pre-enroll with a $50 deposit during this investigation period.

All of this is to ensure that the service will be well received and it is part of the cooperative’s due diligence, since as a co-op they will be using member money, according to Heithoff.

“We are trying to zero in on what is the actual interest? We came up with this idea, modeled after what some other cooperatives like us, who have done this before,” he said.

Heithoff said that it is easy for people to say they are interested, but the true measure of interest is in the deposits being placed for future service. Those deposits will be refunded if, in May, the board chooses to not move forward.

The service will debut in two pilot locations in Cheyenne and Pine Bluffs first, but according to Heithoff, they plan to extend service into the Kimball area as well.

“We are looking at running fiber optic lines to our membership and in addition to that, we are looking at Pine Bluffs, maybe part of Cheyenne and also Kimball if there is interest,” Heithoff said. “This all started a couple of years ago, we did our first wireless test when we heard from members that there was a lack of broadband in the area or it is high cost.”

Proposed plans include a 30Mbps plan and a 100Mbps plan, similar to service currently available in this area as well as a slower 10Mbps plan for those over the age of 65 only and a 1Gbps plan.

Currently there are 164 pre-enrolled households or businesses in the Pine Bluffs pilot area, 662 in Cheyenne’s pilot area and a total of 461 households or businesses pre-enrolled outside of those to pilot areas, according to Heithoff.

“We are already exceeding what we assumed in our business plan,” he said. “Since we really haven’t done much promotion here, since it was out of the pilot area, there are a few people signed up but not many.”

Those few in the area that have already pre-enrolled show that there is interest in Kimball County even without marketing the plan heavily in this area, according to Caskey, who said, “From a personal perspective, the reason there (aren’t more locals pre-enrolled) is that not many people have heard about it yet.”

The potential for savings in this area is up to $430,000 annually, over other providers, according to Heithoff, and because High West is a cooperative, that money stays in this area. Additionally, the service will be faster and provide more coverage.

“For remote areas that have satellite which runs 6Mg down and .5Mg up, if you had our 100 Mgps you would have 100Mbps down/100Mbps up,” said Terry Steege, High West Digital Solutions CEO and General Manager. “Where that would be important is if you wanted to add security cameras to an area. You could upload that data and see real time whereever you are. It’s not really apples to apples when you are comparing it to competitors either.”

“We will be spending a couple million dollars in Kimball if we do this,” Heithoff added. “That is a significant investment, so we want to make sure the interest is there.”

The board authorized Caskey to pre-enroll, though the project may not begin in the Kimball area until 2019, since it is not in either pilot area.

Additionally, Nolting suggested that the matter be added to a future agenda, prior to May, for consideration for other Kimball County locations. During that time the board will gather cost information for current service so a comparison can be made.

A High West member only meeting will be held in Kimball on Tuesday, April 25 at the Kimball Event Center at 5:30 p.m.

 

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