Within the next four years every residence and business in Butler County will have access to high speed fiber internet thanks to a $10 million project by the commissioners and $110 million investment by altafiber.
The commissioners had a work session with David Kramer, senior director for Corporate Strategy and Development with altafiber on Monday about a new contract — that has yet to be approved — to provide high speed internet countywide. He said they plan to have fiber available to residential customers within three years and all others, such as businesses and multi-unit buildings like apartments within four years.
“When we are done everybody who has granted us permission to get onto their property and deliver fiber will have fiber,” Kramer said. “The way I look at this and the way telecommunities look at this is every foot of Butler County road right-of-way will have access to high-speed fiber.”
There are around 157,000 households in Butler County and it is estimated about 45% are lacking adequate internet access, so the commissioners agreed to spend $10 million of their $74.4 million American Rescue Plan Act money to rectify the situation. They put out a request for proposals and received three, but County Administrator Judi Boyko said the review team vetted the two that met the stated requirements.
The ARPA rules and regulations have mutated several times with the federal government broadening allowable uses of the $350 billion allocated to help local governments survive the pains of the pandemic. Broadband has always been one of the specifically allowed uses of the funds.
The altafiber contract will not only bring internet to areas that don’t currently have access but the infrastructure so every resident and business can tap into the high speed fiber network. He said altafiber is investing $110 million into the project.
Commissioner Cindy Carpenter asked Kramer how they are addressing the affordability aspect the commissioners required — people have to pay for their own services once it’s hooked up.
Kramer said they participate in several “affordability options” and the big one is the federal Affordable Connectivity Program that grants a $30 monthly credit to people who are eligible under federal poverty rules.
He said their internet packages generally range from $40 to $70 per month, depending on internet speed and “we have basically committed to providing Butler County residents our best pricing.”
Commissioner Don Dixon made it clear they are not forcing anyone to participate in the program.
“I think it’s important to note our residents are not mandated to take this service, you’re free to let the free market work and if you have another source or another preference you have the ability to do that,” Dixon said. “This just ensures that it is available if you so choose to get it.”
When he was pitching the commissioners in 2021 for some of the ARPA funds for the Butler Rural Electric Cooperative, former county administrator and BREC engineering manager Charlie Young told the Journal-News the pandemic made it painfully evident high-speed internet is crucial in surviving the remote-working world with “children having to drive and sit outside a high school or having to go to a place that has some kind of a wi-fi connection so they could do their homework.”
In the meantime BREC began working with altafiber to get their customers connected to service so Young’s request became moot.
Carpenter said she hopes the program will address areas with scanty internet access first. Kramer said this year they are working to get about 3,000 remaining BREC households connected and then start on Middletown, Trenton, Oxford and Madison Twp. — about 50,000 single family households —where they don’t currently have customers.
Kramer said the 15-year agreement also covers all future developments in the county. Troy Travis, assistant vice president for enterprise operations at Miami University, who was on the vetting committee, said the “future proofing” aspect of the contract is a great opportunity for the county.
“Anything new this contract commits them to providing fiber to the premises as well,” Travis said. “So not only should this close the gap for those who are currently left behind, this should ensure that there is not a gap for the foreseeable future.”
Kramer said after the contract is signed and work begins they will have a landing page on their website so people can get project updates and sign up for service.
Several residents spoke up during the work session about their problems trying to get the internet both during the pandemic and now.
“It’s all about not what it was, but what it’s going to be,” Commissioner T.C. Rogers said. “We’ll look forward to that.”