Fiscal Court displeased with ConnectGRADD broadband project
The Green River Area Development District (GRADD) attended the Ohio County Fiscal Court meeting last Tuesday night to discuss the Q Wireless Broadband Project, formerly known as ConnectGRADD, and was met with displeasure from most of the court.
Tom Massie from GRADD came to inform the court on the future proceedings of the ConnectGRADD project that the county invested in several years ago. According to judge-executive David Johnston, the county has invested around $250,000 in coal severance money into the project.
ConnectGRADD was a project that was supposed to provide high-speed Internet access to rural areas of western Kentucky. The network was to span the counties of Daviess, Hancock, Henderson, McLean, Ohio, Union, and Webster and consist of 55 towers. There are 20 to 25 towers in Ohio County, covering 60 percent of the county. The seven counties that were to be covered by ConnectGRADD, all put in the money to build the network.
Massie explained that GRADD had closed out a loan with the Kentucky Infrastructure Authority (KIA) and had already made the first payment on it of $46,898. The loan had an interest rate of 2.2 percent and had to be paid off in two years. The payments are due twice a year. All construction is set to be finished by the end of the year or until the money runs out.
Q Wireless, who is in charge of the project now, is still building towers for the antenna equipment that beams the signal to the customer. There are 3,000 customers total that are using this broadband service with 485 residing in Ohio County.
This year there were towers built in Dundee and Reynolds Station, which now have 25 customers. There will also be a component put on the water tower at Bluegrass Crossings that will boost the speed of those customers to the north of the tank towards Beaver Dam who use this service. There are hopes to put the equipment on the Centertown water tank by the end of this year, but the budget may not hold out, according to Massie.
Massie said there are speed issues, but they that GRADD is monitoring those issues and suggested that customers with problems should call their toll free number and let their technicians know.
County attorney Greg Hill told Massie that the last time GRADD came to a meeting, there were some records he wanted to see, but that person never got those records to him. Hill wanted to see records on the investments per county, the ratio of investment per population, the number of customers per county and which counties had the higher priority when it came to building the towers and setting up the equipment.
Hill believed the smaller counties were on a lower priority than the larger counties in the group and believed that the county had possibly been misled on its participation in this project.
“I hope I’m wrong, I hope it was done evenly,” said Hill. “But I don’t think so.”
Hill went on to describe an incident of incompetence that took place when towers were constructed in Ohio County.
“We had one or two towers originally built here in the winter,” Hill explained, “And when the leaves come out, you didn’t get any reception because the leaves blocked it.”
Magistrate Michael McKenney lamented that the county even put money in this project.
“There’s other opportunities for people to get wireless internet to rural areas now that weren’t here or existed at the time, that are more affordable, too,” McKenney said. “And that’s really sad that the county spent as much as they have and don’t have better coverage.”
Magistrate Larry Keown also spoke of the incident with the towers being blocked by the leaves, but he believed that the county should get as many towers as they could for the money they provided. To which Massie informed the court that the number of towers the county got was double the estimate they were told when they first gave GRADD the coal severance money.
Hill continued to express his displeasure with the ConnectGRADD project. Hill said the amount of towers that were built didn’t mean anything if the people in that area couldn’t get coverage by the signal. Hill went on to give an example of an excuse the fiscal court was given about why some areas had the signal blocked.
“One excuse that was given to us some time ago was, ‘Well, you’ve got a lot of hills in this county,’” Hill said. “Well, there was a lot of hills in this county when this project was first sold to us.”
Hill then made it known that he would be making an open records request for the records he wants to see.
In an interview, Johnston admitted that he was frustrated with the way things have progressed with ConnectGRADD. He claims to have worked on the ConnectGRADD issue since he first came into office and didn’t see much improvement to the situation in the future. He also pointed out that the county can’t file a legal complaint because GRADD had done everything they maintained they would do in the contract.
Johnston, much like Keown and Hill, had his own story of frustration with the ConnectGRADD signal and coverage.
“Our senior center and our park office (at the Ohio County Park), one is on a higher elevation than the other,” Johnston said. “The senior center can get it (a signal) and the park office can’t. That’s where the break off is.”
Though the ConnectGRADD project seems to not have turned out to be what everyone had hoped, Johnston doesn’t necessarily blame the past fiscal courts who approved the money that went into the project.
“Originally Ohio County said, ‘We don’t want to be a part of it,’” Johnston said. “Our state representative, our state senator, all the GRADD people came over and basically shamed them into giving them the money. Truth is that fiscal court was the only one in the area that got it, but they just buckled in the end.”
Johnston made it clear in the interview that even though past courts may have given GRADD money for this project, the current fiscal court would not.