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Llano County moves into Phase 2 of broadband internet upgrade

Llano County Commissioners Court on June 13, 2022

CobbFendley and Associates project manager Melissa Beaudry started her presentation to the Llano County Commissioners Court via Zoom on June 13. The last part of her remarks were delivered from County Judge Ron Cunningham’s mobile phone due to a bad internet connection. The company is working with the county to improve internet service in the area, which is obviously needed. Staff photo by Suzanne Freeman

Bad internet service forced an online presentation to continue by mobile phone as the Llano County Commissioners Court discussed how to improve and expand broadband service in the county. 

Commissioners voted to move into Phase 2 of the already year-long process during its regular meeting Monday, June 13, where they reviewed a feasibility study by civil engineer CobbFendley and Associates

It might be another two years or more before Llano County residents will see a difference in internet service, Precinct 1 Commissioner Peter Jones said. 

“This whole process takes time,” he said. “Some of these require a staggered implementation over five years. Hopefully, we are moving in the right direction to get full coverage for Llano County.” 

Jones has been spearheading and organizing the process and was appointed at Monday’s meeting to serve on the Llano County Broadband Development Committee along withCountyJudge Ron Cunningham, IT project coordinator Clay Etter, Biz Protect CEO Kerry Hancock, auditor Kelly Eckhardt, grant administrator Cheryl Keep, and County Attorney Dwain Rogers. 

To keep the process moving forward, commissioners approved extending the county’s contract with CobbFendley at a cost not to exceed $41,000 and directed the newly appointed broadband committee to finalize and issue a Request for Information for internet providers interested in working with the county to install “middle mile” and “last mile” broadband internet. 

The money was allocated from $4.2 million that Llano County was granted from American Recovery Act funds. The county has already received the first half of its funds. It should get the second half this summer. 

The middle mile is the backbone of the fiber cable system from which the last mile connects to residences and businesses. Neither is a mile, Jones explained. 

“A middle or last mile can be 500 feet, it can be 500 miles,” he said. “The middle mile is laid out along county and state roads. CobbFendley has laid out where the middle mile should go.”

The next major step is for the committee to submit Requests for Information by the end of June, Jones said. Responses will be due by the end of July. The grant request must be submitted by Sept. 30. 

IN OTHER BUSINESS

Commissioners accepted a petition and approved holding a public hearing to start the process for establishing Emergency Services District No. 5 in voting precinct 108 in Sunrise Beach Village. The step-by-step process began with a petition signed by 100 people in the voting precinct. 

After the public hearing, it will be on the mid-term election ballot Nov. 8. If approved, commissioners will appoint a board to establish a tax rate that will be used to fund the area’s fire department, which is now volunteer. 

Public notice of the public hearing will be published in the local newspaper of record. The hearing will be part of the county’s July 11 regular meeting. The process was also approved by the Sunrise Beach City Council on June 9. 

The ESD No. 5 board is limited by law to a tax of no more than 0.10 cents per $100 evaluation. 

Commissioners also voted on new equipment and furniture for county dispatchers, most of which will be paid for from a CAPCOG grant of $1.2 million. The county’s matching agreement is $400,000 paid over a five-year period. CAPCOG is the Capital Area Council of Governments, which covers a 10-county area, including Llano and Burnet counties.

suzanne@thepicayune.com