Fiber material

Broadband feasibility study calls for construction of $36.8 million fiber network lane throughout Fort Bend County

FORT BEND COUNTY, Texas — The Fort Bend County Departments of Information Technology and Finance engaged engineering and surveying firm Cobb Fendley to conduct a broadband feasibility study to determine the state of internet connectivity. in the county, especially in unserved or underserved areas of the county. The findings of this study were presented at a meeting of the Tribunal of Commissioners on 26 July.

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Here are some key ideas from the workshop presentation:

  • Cobb Fendley obtained stakeholder engagement from 28 resources;
  • 834 survey responses were recorded;
  • 240 miles of proposed fiber infrastructure is proposed for a high-level design route; and
  • four funding options for implementing widespread broadband connectivity have been identified.

Survey results ranked internet provider options, availability, coverage, pricing, reliability and speed as well as the ability to work from home and access information online as overall poor .

Cobb Fendley defined underserved communities as households lacking download speeds of 100 megabits per second and upload speeds of 20 Mbps. Unserved populations represent households that lack download speeds of 25 Mbps and upload speeds of 3 Mbps.

Based on the maps Cobb Fendley presented at the meeting, underserved areas overwhelm the west side of the county. An inventory of broadband assets and providers revealed that these items were densely populated in the eastern part of the county.

Findings from this initial phase of the study call for the construction of a “middle mile” or backbone path of larger cables that carry the bulk of network traffic. The middle mile would be installed underground, along major roads and along interstate and intrastate highways.

The purpose of the middle mile, said Melissa Beaudry, project manager for the company, is to incentivize and reduce the cost for providers to build the “last mile” that would connect the main grid to a home or business. .

The construction sum would be $36.76 million for materials and labor, with a 30% match by the county totaling just over $11 million.

Completion of this study and plan ensures that Fort Bend County is adequately and accurately included in state plans to apply for a grant, Beaudry said.

This funding is available through the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, an agency offering state and federal grant funding opportunities through the Middle Mile Grant; Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment Program; and the Digital Equity Program.

  • The Middle Mile Grant is nationally competitive with an allocation of $1 billion. States must submit their plans by September to be eligible.
  • The BEAD program is allocated by the State for 42.5 billion dollars. Applications must be submitted by spring 2023.
  • The Digital Equity Program – a merger of three grants aimed at ensuring that all people and communities have the skills, technology and capabilities to take full advantage of the digital economy – must be filed by this autumn. $3.1 million is available to Texas for planning funds and $2.75 billion is allocated nationally to states and territories.

The American Rescue Plan Act also provides a Capital Projects Fund grant to states, territories, and tribal governments for the completion of projects to enable labor, education, and health surveillance, including remote options, in response to a public health emergency. $500 million is available for Texas.

According to the Federal Communications Commission, broadband refers to high-speed Internet access that is more available and faster than traditional dial-up access. Broadband technologies include cable modems, fiber optics, wireless and digital subscriber lines.

Cobb Fendley recommends using fiber, which are small strands of glass cable that carry signals over light, to distribute broadband. The fiber has a lifespan of 20 years, according to representatives of the firm.

Jarod Branstetter, Cobb Fendley’s project manager, said fiber is generally considered the best material for implementing broadband and connecting to the internet.

“(Fiber) is fundamental,” Branstetter said. “We’re not even using fiber to its full capacity yet – it’s future-proof. The equipment we install there, within (even) 10 years, will still be able to function properly via fiber cables optics. While the older ones, the copper version will have more limitations.”

Branstetter said the company began the study in early 2022 by evaluating the county’s existing infrastructure.

“We see who has fiber, who has towers, who has access, what service levels are provided,” Branstetter said.

After analyzing the data, the company began to theorize what a “high-level” design of a network infrastructure would look like, Branstetter said. After that, they looked at the potential cost of implementation.

“If there are gaps where there isn’t enough network infrastructure in that corner of the county, how do we get it there,” Branstetter offered. “Why are these gaps here? Then we look at needs and analysis.”

Judge KP George commented on broadband connectivity as a goal for other counties across the United States and asked the company how it plans to incorporate findings from municipalities that have already implemented extended networks.

Beaudry countered that the importance for Fort Bend County to complete this study, although there are already studies completed elsewhere, is to contextualize all federal broadband applications to make the county “more competitive at the ‘national scale’.

Cobb Fendley has previously worked with municipalities, such as the City of Pearland, to implement fiber optic network plans that connect various city-owned and maintained equipment and facilities, such as control cabinets Traffic ; flashing school zone beacons; and the police, fire and town hall buildings.

The next steps in Phase 2 of this plan are to perform preliminary engineering of the high-level design for the middle mile, identify potential public-private partnerships, and seek competitive funding sources for implementation.

Robyn Doughtie, Chief Information Officer and Chief Information Officer, recommended the formation of a Broadband Committee to address grants available for broadband implementation. This will be a point that the Court of Commissioners will have to decide at a future meeting.

This article comes from our partners ABC13 at Community Impact Newspapers.