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Joplin, Mo., Leans on Consultant to Identify Internet Providers

The Joplin City Council has hired a consultant to sort through 16 proposals from Internet service providers interested in developing broadband service. Certain parts of the city have little to no Internet service, officials say.

(TNS) — Joplin city officials agreed Monday night to proceed with a search for potential broadband Internet providers.

The City Council, at a meeting Monday night, approved paying a consultant to issue a request for proposals for Internet service.

The cost for that work will be $358,928 for experts from the firm of Alvarez & Marsal Infrastructure and Capital Projects LLP to issue a call for proposals to develop broadband service.

That is the second half of a two-part effort to identify what companies have an interest in providing expanded service in Joplin. Some areas of Joplin have no service or slow service that is not adequate for today's uses or to prepare for Joplin for the future, city officials have said.

The council approved the first half of the agreement in July to contact providers to test interest. The total contract is for $797,618, but it was decided to break the contract into two phases to allow advisers and city staff to better manage the effort. The first phase of the contract cost $438,690.

As a result of that work, 16 Internet service providers indicated interest in looking further into providing service to Joplin, the council was told Monday night by Johan Bullington, the city's assistant planning and development director.

The council had been told earlier that the request for proposals would be issued in the fall. Councilman Josh DeTar asked if the requests for proposals were still to be issued.

Bullington said the final draft of the request was being prepared and would be issued within about two weeks. DeTar asked if Alvarez and Marsal would continue to represent the city throughout that process. He was told the firm would continue to represent the city through receipt of any proposals and any negotiations that take place.

Representatives of the firm will give an update in December, Bullington said.

Councilman Keenan Cortez asked if Bullington had any projection when the city will be able to tell residents that there is faster Internet service available.

"Technology changes rapidly and we're in a process now of trying to bring updated technology to our community but I don't want us to be 36 months down the road and we're still trying to do that and what we're trying to do is now outdated technology that is not going to benefit us and we've spent a pile of money on it," Cortez said. He asked when city officials will be able to report to underserved residents they have better service available.

Bullington said she could not say when but that Alvarez and Marsal first wanted to find out if there was interest from Internet providers to come to Joplin. She said the higher the interest the better the negotiations could turn out to bring faster and less expensive service to Joplin.

In the second phase, they are trying to get the requests for specific proposals out so they can negotiate with those who respond in January, Bullington said. By early spring, there could be more details on what new service could be available in the future and at what cost.

Mayor Doug Lawson said that as the result of attending a technology summit held last week by the Joplin Area Chamber of Commerce, he had a better understanding of how important it is to have broadband service.

Cortez made a motion to approve the second payment and DeTar seconded the motion. Council voted 9-0 to approve the second payment for services to obtain proposals and conduct negotiations.

The broadband project grew out of a Smart Cities initiative the council adopted several years ago as a project that would use the city's remaining disaster recovery grant funds. Those funds will provide $200,999 toward this payment, and the city will pay the rest of it, $157,928, from the general fund.

The council also advanced for approval zoning requests by:

  • Driven Brands, which asked to vacate an unused sewer line easement at a site where the company is to build a Take 5 Car Wash at 3209 S. Range Line Road at the southeast corner of 32nd Street and Range Line. Utility lines are to be located in a new easement already dedicated to the sanitary sewer.
  • Property owner Jack Frost for a change in zoning at 2323 S. Highview Ave. from M-2 for heavy industrial to C-3 for commercial for a future commercial development.
  • Baily Austin for a special-use permit for expansion of her day care and preschool center, the Elite Preparatory School, at 3132 E. 12th St. The council was told the preschool has operated now for five years without any neighborhood complaints.

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