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Broadband Providers Express Interest in Joplin, Mo.

There is interest in providing broadband access in Joplin as those hired to conduct a search for the service gather information about potential contractors or providers, the City Council was told Monday night.

(TNS) — There is interest in providing broadband access in Joplin as those hired to conduct a search for the service gather information about potential contractors or providers, the City Council was told Monday night.

A request for information from broadband providers was issued on behalf of the city last month. City officials then contracted a firm, Alvarez and Marsal Infrastructure and Capital Projects of Washington, D.C., as an adviser on the project.

Riz Shah, manager director of that firm working with Joplin, spoke at the meeting about what has been learned so far.

"We want to make sure this plan here is one that makes sense, not just in terms of a pretty picture dynamics," Shah said.

Shah's group reviewed how other cities are getting more broadband access and then began to distribute information about Joplin's status.

Another adviser on the project, James Pittman, said a request for information was widely distributed to the broadband market with the knowledge that some companies would be willing to invest in a business partnership to construct a network and/or provide service.

"We know there is a good chance an internet service provider will invest," he said.

Shah said that based on what they have learned so far, a request for proposals will likely be issued in October.

Jack Schaller, vice president of the Olsson engineering company, said the advisers also are looking at how a service could be funded unless someone is willing to make all of the investments. He said they intend to look at the availability of grants. Currently, grant opportunities are available for rural broadband projects, but there are some long-term grants that will become available that are a better fit for Joplin.

The council was told that applying for and obtaining a grant is competitive and that the city will need to provide good data in order to have a chance for funding.

The consultants will look at ways to leverage money and put a funding strategy together, which could involve an investment by a provider or could involve city funding or a partnership.

The request for information resulted in about 45 replies, and there could be around 16 respondents who turn in a proposal once those are sought, the council was told.

"This has affirmed that this is a feasible project for Joplin and vendors want to come to Joplin," Shah said.

The mayor pro tem, Keenan Cortez, said he would like to see several companies respond or agree to provide service to drive down the cost for residents. He asked if 16 responses is significant. Shah said it is and that there are expectations that both local and national providers may present proposals.

City officials began about four years ago exploring the need for faster and more reliable service, which included work in 2020 by an appointed steering committee of community leaders to develop a technology plan for Joplin. Internet access was at the top of a list of priorities established by the committee. That resulted in the city commissioning a broadband analysis study that was completed last year.

That study determined that many residents have spotty internet service or cannot get service in all areas of the city. Numerous residents rely on cellphones for online access because they cannot afford home service. The needs became acute during the COVID-19 pandemic when students needed internet connections to attend virtual classes and people wanted to connect remotely to doctors and other health professionals rather than make in-person visits, the study reported.

In other business, the panel approved an annual agreement between the city and the Missouri Department of Transportation to allow the Joplin Metropolitan Planning Organization to receive funding for much of the cost of planning area street and highway projects.

The MPO will spend $1,130,759, and $828,862 will be reimbursed by the federal grant along with $75,745 from the Federal Transportation Administration.

The council also approved demolition of dilapidated properties at 2201 S. Empire Ave., 802 E. Langston Hughes- Broadway and 827 S. Empire Ave, at a cost of $3,800 to $3,900 each.

The council will meet nightly Tuesday through Thursday for review of the proposed 2023 city budget.

© 2022 The Joplin Globe (Joplin, Mo.). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.