By Michael Campbell, News Editor
PRINCE GEORGE – Supervisors unanimously, but with hints of reluctance, voted in favor of a recommendation to have $1 million from the county’s spring borrowing transferred to the county’s industrial development authority as part of a plan to help fund Prince George Electric Cooperative’s effort to expand broadband in the county.
As part of the recommendation, the county would allocate the $1 million that was earmarked for the county’s broadband expansion efforts from the spring loan proceeds to the IDA, who would then create a “Broadband Expansion Grant” that would be awarded to an LLC under PGEC, PGEC Enterprises, who would then use the funds to “help cover the overhead costs of this project.”
A contract would be created between the county, IDA, and PGEC that requires, as part of the funding, 500 customers be brought online with Internet service and speeds of a minimum of 25 Mbps by July 1, 2021 along a proposed fiber network that will criss-cross through the county, linked by the electric cooperative’s substations.
Board Chairman Bill Robertson and supervisors Alan Carmichael and Jerry Skalsky all expressed concern about providing the funding, mainly focused on if the company was committed to bringing broadband to more customers once it brought the contracted 500 customers online, which doesn’t include the approximately 50 customers who are currently receiving Internet service from PGEC through their pilot project along West Quaker Road and Prince George Drive.
When asked about that and if the company would be willing to take the $1 million in funding if it was broken into two $500,000 payments, where PGEC would receive the remaining half-million dollars after they brought 250 customers online, President and CEO of PGEC Mike Malandro told supervisors that not providing the full funding would slow down the project and the return on investment would be worth the county’s initial infusion of cash.
He added that he doesn’t expect to come back before the board requesting more funding at a later time toward project, saying that bringing the 500 customers online, which Malandro projects will take 24 months on a aggressive estimate, two years ahead of schedule, will allow for PGEC’s broadband project to gain more steam and increase margins that will be re-invested back into the company to help expand broadband further.
Through the county’s GIS analysis, they have identified over 1,200 potential customers for the broadband internet service across the county who would be in close proximity to the fiber backbone being installed by PGEC. That analysis did not include PGEC’s current customer database, which county officials said could yield additional potential customers.
Wednesday’s vote by the Prince George Board of Supervisors was only a recommendation for approval, with the final party in the proposed three-party contract, the industrial development board, having to agree to the contract during a special meeting sometime in June, according to county documents.
Additionally, the transfer of $1 million to the IDA for the funding of the PGEC project did not need to go to a public hearing due to a public hearing having already been held earlier this year for the issuance of the bonds and $1 million of those proceeds was earmarked specifically for broadband internet expansion.
Michael Campbell will have more from Wednesday’s meeting, including an interview with PGEC Electric Cooperative CEO Mike Malandro about his plans for this project and thoughts on the supervisors’ concerns in the May 31 edition of The Prince George Journal