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Joplin, Mo., Officials Mull Citywide Broadband Build

The Joplin City Council is considering a pact with Allo Missouri for citywide fiber-optic broadband. Joplin would contribute $4 million from an American Rescue Plan Act grant, and only eligible expenses would be paid from city funds.

fiber-optic cable
Details of a proposed contract for citywide fiber optic broadband service will be presented during a work session Monday of the Joplin City Council.

The provider chosen is Allo Missouri, a division of Allo Fiber based in Lincoln, Nebraska. Allo supplies service to 50 cities in three states: Nebraska, Colorado and Arizona. The city would contribute $4.05 million toward the costs of construction of the Internet network.

That money is allocated from a grant the city received from the American Rescue Plan Act and only expenses that are eligible would be paid from city funds. The company would have two years from the time the contract is approved to complete the construction of the system’s backbone. Allo would have to submit its final allowable costs by Aug. 31, 2026, in order for the city to process those final costs before the expiration of the federal grant program at the end of 2026.

Allo is a privately funded company that was founded in 2003. It has investors that include Nelnet, a Nebraska technology company; and SDC Capital Partners headquartered in New York, a private investment firm for IT and communications infrastructure.

Documents for the meeting to discuss the contract do not show any proposed prices for the broadband service but they do say there is a requirement that the company offer an alternate rate program for those with low incomes under the Federal Communication Commission's Affordable Connectivity Program.

City officials learned there were gaps in access to reliable Internet or lack of providers in many areas of Joplin after the COVID-19 pandemic.

Troy Bolander, the city’s planning, development and neighborhood services director, said the city did not know the magnitude of the need until then.

That’s when the city hired consultants that included broadband experts and engineers to determine the needs of citywide service and to seek potential vendors. Reliable Internet to all parts of the city is important not only to residents but to make government operations more efficient, for economic development purposes and jobs, and to serve health care needs, those officials have said.

Last year, a request for proposals was issued and nine responses were received. Those were evaluated and narrowed to five, which were further refined to three finalists.

Those three were examined during three rounds that included in-depth review of their responses in the request for proposals and to determine if they understood that what the city was seeking was a fiber-optic network connecting all residents. The consultants looked into build-out and construction abilities of the companies and whether they had detailed understanding of the needs of their clients and how good their customer service is.

They also looked at the companies for affordability, resilience and recovery of their network capabilities after a disaster, and community engagement. Resilience includes the ability to maximize infrastructure to government buildings, educational and health care facilities and to have replacement parts available here in case of a disaster or emergency.

At a recent presentation in December about the status of the contract negotiations, Jack Schaller, a consultant from Olsson engineering, said the company that was being considered as the final candidate has a “robust plan” for disaster response. A large part of the proposed system would be fiber-optic line that is buried, but some of it would be aerial, which Schaller said gave the company the ability to set up Wi-Fi service and have connectivity back in service in a day.

In addition to discussing the broadband contract, the council will:

  • Hear a report on the conclusions of a study commissioned by the Joplin Regional Alliance for Healthcare and Health Sciences.

  • Hear a presentation on an insurance program, the Missouri Fire Fighters Critical Illness Pool, available to cover critical health issues of firefighters who are exposed to cancer-causing or toxic substances in the course of their work.

The council work session will be held at 5:45 p.m. Monday at City Hall, 602 S. Main St.

©2024 The Joplin Globe, Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.