The work on the fiber project in O'Neill is nearing completion says Three River General Manager Steven Dorf. On Friday members of the community were taken on a quick tour of the equipment that has been placed in O'Neill to operate the new, state-of-the-art fiber optic system partially financed from the CARES Act which provided money to rural communities underserved by lack of broadband services.
Dorf stated that it would be a couple of weeks before the backbone part of the project will be done and then after that they will be doing some testing and looking to do installs over the course of the next few months.
The CARES Act guidelines required that the Nebraska Broadband Grant program assist Nebraskans directly impacted by COVID-19. Enhanced broadband infrastructure is an important tool for Nebraskans to address the challenges of the public health crisis. Broadband providers must use this grant to provide service to an eligible community that meets the FCC broadband standard.
Three River was selected by the State of Nebraska as the grant recipient in O'Neill at the end of June of 2020. One of the requirements of the grant is the provider have the necessary agreement(s) with the applicable city.
The City of Ainsworth and O'Neill retained the services of Universal Broadband Consulting (“Universal”) to review and make recommendations for the agreements with Three River.
At some point in February of this year the cities of Ainsworth and O'Neill were informed that Three River had filed a matter with the Nebraska PSC to approve the refinancing of their existing loans completely unrelated to the project and both cities subsequently filed a Petition for Intervention with the PSC. As both cities were later represented in the matter by one of the principals of Universal, it seems likely that they informed the cities of the PSC matter in the first place.
Although the grant is not allocated through the city or the state, but just monitored through the state DED, both O'Neill and Ainsworth governments filed these Petitions for Intervention as “interested parties.”
John Gross, Three River board member, advised the newspaper that "We informed both cities that the interventions would likely not result in the PSC disapproving of Three River’s request, but the delay the interventions caused in our approval 'process resulted in an increase to interest rates that may cost the company approximately $275,000 over the life of the loan.
"As the interventions had nothing to do with the O'Neill and Ainsworth internet projects, we were surprised by them," said Gross.
Both the Ainsworth City Council and the O’Neill City Council withdrew their petition to hold up Three River's financing last week, which paves the way for PSC approval. These unnecessary actions taken by Ainsworth and O’Neill seem rooted in poor advice.