Thursday, February 29, 2024

Oconee County Commissioners To Amend Agreement With Charter For Expansion Of Broadband Service In County

***Commissioners Receive Update On Program***

The Oconee County Board of Commissioners is set to approve an amendment to its 2021 agreement with Charter Communications that will extend Charter’s broadband service in the county to an additional 211 currently unserved addresses.

The agreement will increase the number of served addresses subsidized by the county to 1,927 and increase the amount of subsidy the county has agreed to provide Charter for expansion of broadband from $1.7 million to $2.2 million.

The county is using federal American Rescue Plan monies for the subsidy it is providing Charter, which received a separate grant from the federal Rural Digital Opportunity Fund to provide broadband service in the rural southern part of the county.

The county estimated when it signed the broadband agreement with Charter in November of 2021 that 98 percent of the county would be reached by broadband service after these two federally funded programs were in place.

The amended agreement, presented to the Board at its agenda-setting meeting on Tuesday, calls for the work to be completed by no later than Dec. 31 of this year.

The Board is scheduled to take final action on the amended agreement with Charter at its regular meeting on Tuesday.

The Board also at that meeting is to consider new social media policy guidelines that spell out rules for the county’s use of social media as well as how citizen use of the county's social media will be handled.

Update On Broadband

At the meeting on Tuesday, County Administrator Justin Kirouac gave an update on the efforts to expand broadband service in the county before introducing the proposed amendments to the existing agreement with Charter, which is doing business as Spectrum.

Kirouac 2/27/2024

On Nov. 2, 2021, the Board of Commissioners had voted to approved a contract with Charter to incentivize it to build out broadband in underserved areas, mostly in the central and southern parts of the county.

Charter already had received a grant from the Federal Communication Commission’s Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF) to expand broadband to 754 rural addresses largely in the southern parts of the county.

Kirouac told the Board on Tuesday that, at the time of the contract in 2021, Charter had identified 1,377 addresses to be served by its agreement with the county, but that number increased to 1,716 as work progressed.

As a result of that contract, the county paid Charter $1,716,000.

“Phase one is virtually complete,” Kirouac said, “And the RDOF is also complete as well.”

Next Step

Charter and Oconee County have identified an additional 211 addresses “that are considered unserved and outside the initial phase one,” Kirouac said.

The county is proposing to pay Charter an additional $527,500 to reach these 211 addresses, bringing the total cost to $2,243,500.

“I would anticipate there are also addresses still not contemplated,” Kirouac said.

“The amendment to the original agreement is to allow us to incorporate 211 additional addresses and then handle any going forward requests that we may have,” Kirouac said.

Additional Comment

“We are getting a lot of reports from the south end that they have been hooked up,” Board Chair John Daniell said when Kirouac finished his report. “And it's working really well. This has been a great, great project.”

Kirouac added that Charter had until 2026 or 2027 to complete its work under the RDOF grant, but because the county agreed to provide funding for broadband in the other parts of the county, work in the south moved more quickly.

“By the county initiating the grant application for phase one, we jumped to the front of the line in the state,” he said. “A lot of the places that were hooked up this past year would be waiting ‘til 2026 or 7 if not for the phase one approach.”

“Charter was able to muster their forces and get economies of scale on it,” he said.

“I think for clarification it's important to note this,” Kirouac said. “We are providing a grant–an economic grant--to incentivize Charter Spectrum to build out their infrastructure.”

“But it's not like a direct contract with Charter,” he said. “We're not in partnership with them. We're providing them an incentive.”

“And it's clearly worked, because we've been trying to get this for a long, long time, and this past year has been pretty successful,” he said.

The Board voted to put the amended contract on the consent agenda for approval at its meeting on Tuesday.

Social Media

Diane Baggett, Communications Director for Oconee County, asked the Board to adopt an updated Social Media Policy to cover “both our internal and external users.”

Fire Rescue Explorers 2/27/2024

The document, she said “aligns with current best practices. It incorporates recommendations from the Government Social Media Professional Association, current case law, and SocialArchive.”

Baggett described SocialArchive as “an archiving service that we use to comply with open records laws regarding our social media.”

The seven-page document states that while county employees “may have personal social media profiles,” the employees “should be mindful of the distinction between sharing personal and agency (county) views.”

The document states that county employees “must not use official agency social media for political purposes, to conduct private commercial transactions, or to engage in private business activities.”

“Our social media accounts are created and maintained as limited public forums,” the policy states.

Prohibited content includes “Comments expressly advocating direct violence or other illegal activity,” and “Comments containing or linking to obscenity.”

Also prohibited are “Comments that expressly encourage or advocate our agency to illegally discriminate based on race, age, religion, gender, national origin, sexual orientation, veteran status, or any other legally protected class.”

The Board put the social media policy document on the consent agenda to be voted on at the meeting on Tuesday.

Fire Rescue Explorers

At the beginning of the meeting, the Board recognized 15 members of the county’s Fire Rescue Explorers.

Fire Chief Bruce Thaxton said “they’re a fine group of young men and women 14 to 17 years old, and it's good to have them here so you can recognize them.”

Branden Newton, leader of the Explorer group, said “we've started this program in the fall of 2021–two years ago. I never would have imagined in my wildest dreams that we would be where we are with this Post.”

“The very first night, only five or six Explorers showed up, and we've now grown to 15 Explorers in the program,” he said.

Newton said that the hope is “that on their 18th birthday or graduation of high school they would become volunteers with Oconee County Fire Rescue.”

The Explorers and their advisers were called up to the front of room by name to be received and recognized by the five commissioners.


The video below is on the Oconee County YouTube Channel.

The meeting starts at 21:10 in the video.

Recognition of the Explorers is at 22:39.

Kirouac presented the amendment to the contract with Charter at 28:25 in the video.

Baggett gave her presentation on the social media guidelines at 39:55 in the video.

1 comment:

Harold Thompson said...

Expanding broadband is a great use of the American Rescue Plan funding. Thank you President Biden and the BOC.