November 2, 2021 Camden County Commission meeting at 10:00 a.m.

First off, I wanted to mention that the blog now has an email address where you can send comments, praise, criticisms (keep it classy, Cardinals fans 🙂 ), information that you want to keep confidential, and any other suggestions:

amongthedogwoods1@gmail.com

I know, I’m as shocked as you all, but apparently someone has already taken amongthedogwoods as a Gmail address.

All three commissioners were present. The following is a summary of the meeting.

There were around ten people present in the audience besides the normal Camden County employees.

The only agenda item was a broadband meeting with Seth Barclay.

Seth Barclay is with Midstate Communication Contractors, Inc. out of Camdenton, Missouri. They have 88 employees and most of them live in Camden County.

He introduced Heath Sellenriek, the President of Gateway Fiber, an internet service provider company. Heath told the Commission his company is currently providing fiber service in Lincoln, Warren, and Saint Charles Counties. They were obviously there because Camden County is receiving ARPA money from the federal government that is earmarked for improvements to sewer, water, broadband, and COVID-related expenses. In the May 20, 2021 meeting, Commissioner Hasty stated this ARPA money is in the neighborhood of $8.9 million. The Commission has previously heard from Wisper and Co-Mo Connect regarding potential broadband expansion in the county.

Sellenriek touted fiber as the best method to receive internet service. He said fiber optic cable has unlimited capacity that is only limited by the capabilities of the equipment at either end of the line. It has no weather issues and is extremely durable. Their focus is on providing fiber service, but they won’t rule out tower service as an option if needed.

They currently do not provide broadband service in Camden County, but depending on the size of a Camden County project, they would establish a business office in Camden County.

Commissioner Gohagan asked him if they have a supply of fiber stockpiled. Sellenriek stated they are sitting on several million dollars worth of fiber. Commissioner Hasty mentioned that they would want to see a plan from the company that would maximize the number of homes served. Sellenriek told him they have seen a variety of plans presented by county governments. Some counties just want improvements in their service while others have more specific requirements.

The Auditor, Jimmy Laughlin, said that Camden County has launched a website survey of broadband service quality: connect.camdenmo.org. The survey includes businesses, schools, and the hospital.

Jennie Brinkman was present in the audience and she started asking some questions also. Jennie has a lifetime of experience in installing, planning, and managing huge internet service projects across the country. It quickly became obvious that Jennie knew more or as much about fiber optic service as anyone else in the room. The commissioners seemed to recognize her wealth of knowledge and they wisely deferred to her to ask some of the crucial questions about Gateway’s capabilities.

Gateway currently has 3,000 customers, but they have the equipment and fiber to support many thousands more. Gateway would handle the installation and home services portion of the project. I assumed Midstate would handle the fiber layout and construction aspect. There was a lot of great back and forth between the audience members, the Gateway vendor, and the commission regarding the best ways this project could be completed.

This an example of why it’s important for the Commission to allow public comment and have open meetings. This could end up being a huge project in the neighborhood of $5,000,000 and we just can’t expect the commissioners to know enough about large broadband projects to decide between proposals without expert advice. It’s also important to get this project rolling because many other Missouri cities and counties are receiving ARPA money and there is a 2026 deadline for the projects to be completed. Camden County definitely wants to get this project done before those other projects since there will be an obvious rush by all of these government bodies to get their projects done as 2026 approaches. A sudden avalanche of these projects could mean labor delays and supply problems as the deadline looms.

Jennie suggested the great idea of including a county service survey in the RFP (Request For Proposal) so the internet company that wins the bid would also be responsible for conducting the survey. I mentioned to the Commission that they should decide what priorities should be included in the RFP. For example, several schools in Camden County currently don’t have internet access. Providing broadband service to those schools should be at the top of the list. By establishing a priority list, the Commission would ensure they receive project bids that are similar in scope to each other and thus easier to compare to find the best deal for Camden County.

I also brought up the fact that Camden County would be paying for the installation of the fiber lines, but then the broadband company would reap the profits from those lines with service fees. Sellenriek then suggested Gateway would be willing to partner with Camden County to share jointly in the costs of the actual laying of the fiber lines. This was the first time an internet company had mentioned this idea before the Commission.

Generally speaking, fiber companies won’t lay fiber to remote areas of Camden County because the profit from the customer base there won’t justify the expense of taking the fiber to them. By defraying the cost to the company, Camden County can encourage them to lay fiber to areas like Mack’s Creek and Climax Springs. Providing fiber service to those areas might also encourage more people to live out in some of those towns since broadband access has become a practical necessity in our daily lives. It’s really hard to get access to blogs without an internet connection.

And that was that.

Overall, it was an excellent Commission meeting. It was conducted openly and the Commission encouraged members of the audience to put their two cents in.

This is in stark contrast to the Commission meeting with Co-Mo Connect on June 2, 2021 which wasn’t announced at all.

I’m hoping this encourages the Commission to continue to conduct business openly as they begin to see the benefits of engaging with members of their own community.

I’m also praying that the Commission plans to enlist Jennie Brinkman’s assistance in this broadband project no matter which vendor is selected, because she could definitely handle it way better than most of us and this is a great, once in a decade opportunity for the Commission to provide a meaningful improvement to the quality of life for a large section of Camden County.

5 thoughts on “November 2, 2021 Camden County Commission meeting at 10:00 a.m.

  1. Thanks for the update!

    Midstate Communications must think they have the job in the bag already. They’ve been in my very rural area of Camden County this week measuring and making plans. I was told they plan to have fiber optic cable and broadband service within a couple years.

    Our area already has high speed internet access through Splash Wireless in Richland. They also service the Mack’s Creek area. Splash is locally and veteran owned. I know most resident will not be switching if given the chance.

    Liked by 1 person

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