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West Memphis Utility Department studying broadband feasibility

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High- speed internet service could come to community through relief funds

[email protected] West Memphis Utilities Commissioners authorized the city company to study the ins and outs of providing broadband to city customers. The federal government earmarked COVID19 relief Funds for infrastructure development like Internet services to underserved areas. Assistant Utilities Manager Ward Wimbish said the relief package seemed tailor made for delivering a wi-fi alternative to West Memphis.

'We've been encouraged by many in the community about the feasibility of us getting into broadband,' said Wimbish. 'Federal money coming out to communities for economic development and to recover from COVID-19 include a lot of money for broadband. The Feds are behind this so much they changed their criteria for eligibility.

It used to be for communities that were not served.

The feds changed the eligibility to those underserved.'

Wimbish said the city had conducted a preliminary speed test with some internet users in the city.

'Most of us have bad internet,' said Wimbish. 'Sixty

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percent of those respondents had poor service that did not meet the minimum threshold set by the Federal Communications Commission. The results could be quantified as bad.'

'In preparation we applied for a grant for funds to do a feasibility study,' said Wimbish. 'We collected proposals for our feasibility study.'

Commissioners mulled over the two bids. The company selected had completed 400 similar studies.

Wimbish explained the scope of the study.

'It will establish what it costs and what's available,' said Wimbish. 'They will do a business survey and their own speed test. They' provide options including expanding outside city limits and into the county.'

Utilities General Manager Todd Pedersen said other funding options were near ready, but each required a completed feasibility study. He asked commissioners to forge ahead with the study so plans could be order as funding sources opened.

'There is other money for a buildout,' said Pedersen.

'If we weren't to get this grant, I'd be coming back to you for these other funding sources anyway.'

Commissioners approved spending nearly $70,000 for the highest rated bidding competitor's professional services to launch the study during their July meeting.

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