USDA-RUS ReConnect Expansion Project

Here is an update on our USDA-RUS ReConnect Round 1 project.

In May, we were officially awarded a USDA-RUS ReConnect at a Virtual Press Conference with US Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue and US Senator Debbie Stabenow. It was a really great event that announced our award of $10.7 million for our build out of a number of areas including: Mill Lake, Duck Lake, Schermerhorn Lake, Osterhout Lake, Saddle and Silver Lakes, Jeptha Lakes, Scott Lake, North Lake, Pine Grove Township, Arlington Township and some other areas. The project is spread over 100 square miles and will extend broadband service to approximately 7,700 residents.

We have been held up a little moving this project forward this summer due to environmental concerns over a couple of threatened or endangered species. The big one is the Eastern Massagua Rattlesnake which apparently has some habitat around this area. I know when I ask people about it they are VERY interested but it’s pretty rare to talk to people who have actually seen or dealt with that rattlesnake. There are some other species that we need to be careful with as well including the Karner Blue Butterfly, Mitchell’s Satyr Butterfly, and the Northern Long-Eared Bat.

We were able to request special clearance from the USDA-RUS to allow us to get started with the initial engineering design of the BIG project before the final environmental clearance is granted. The design phase is where they literally draw lines on a map to represent how we would build the fiber to provide service. We hope that we are able to get the design work done fairly quickly which will then move into the “staking” work. Staking is where the engineers drive every inch of the project looking for trees, rocks, ditches, culverts, waterways and other things that would impact how the project would actually get built in the real world. After that, the engineering folks would tabulate all of the results and put together a bid package to go to prospective contractors. We are hoping that this will all get done this fall and that we can get the bids back and a contractor lined up to start early next spring.

We are anticipating the BIG project to be multi-year project that gets built in 2021 and 2022 with the final customers getting hooked up by the middle of 2023. Obviously, there is a lot to do with this and we won’t be determining areas that gone done in what order until all of the engineering and contract work has been done. At that time, we would be working with the engineers and contractors to figure that piece out.

We know that not all areas are covered and that it will be quite a while for this whole process. Please know that if your area is not covered . . . even if it is very close to an area that is. . . it is probably because the FCC Coverage maps show that your area was covered by adequate service. Those weren’t our decisions or rules. We have tried the best we can to find opportunities to be able to build fiber to the home to customers in rural Van Buren and Allegan Counties and we will continue to do that. Unfortunately, Frontier and others have coverage maps that may not accurately reflect the service at people’s homes.

We are VERY EXCITED to be moving forward with this project. Please let us know if you have questions or concerns. We will be working in the very near future on rolling out information to people in the ReConnect areas so that they understand the process, our products/services/pricing, and how the project will be progressing. In the next month or two, we would love to come to a Lake Association or other meetings (like perhaps some informal road side chats) with property owners from the areas we are coming to.

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