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Pennsylvania County Project Seeks to Shape Best Possible Deals on Broadband

In a strategy known as broadband aggregation, municipalities, public-safety organizations and a university joined private businesses in an RFP seeking better broadband.

Thanks to an “extraordinary” response to an RFP issued earlier this year, a Pennsylvania broadband aggregation group called the Monroe Gigabit Project, which unites more than three dozen public agencies and private companies, will continue through 2017.

Four local and national providers submitted bids to 44 organizations across Monroe County, AcceleratePA — a statewide pro-business and technology organization — said after the close of business on Wednesday, June 7.

As a result, the project, which likely would have wrapped before the end of the year, will instead continue through Dec. 31 so consultants can help participants — including the Monroe County 911 Call Center; a regional police force; several townships, boroughs and hospitals; East Stroudsburg University; and Pocono Raceway — shape the best possible deals on broadband.

The companies are PenTeleData, the nation’s oldest cable company and a longtime county provider; GoNetspeed, a telecommunications firm based in Rochester, N.Y.; NCN Data, a local firm headquartered in Stroudsburg, Pa.; and national provider Sprint Communications.

The endeavor is one of “probably close to 50” similar broadband aggregations that Kelly Lewis, president of Mechanicsburg, Pa.-based Lewis Strategic, said he’s worked on during the past 15 years, and he credited its collective buying power with helping generate a “profound” response.

“Maybe 18 of the 20 largest organizations in the county were in the RFP, so for any of those companies with a presence in our county, it was a unique, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to win some contracts,” Lewis, director of AcceleratePA, told Government Technology.

He estimated some of the 44 companies behind the RFP could begin to sign contracts within 90 days.

According to Lewis, along with others at Lewis Strategic and consultant Dellicker Strategies, which issued the RFP in April, broadband aggregations are a way for disparate entities to leverage their buying power.

“Availability is less of a problem than value,” Dellicker Strategies President Kevin Dellicker told Government Technology. “By injecting that competition and demand aggregation into the marketplace, we can usually succeed.”

The companies or agencies aren’t linked indefinitely, and forge individual contracts with providers once bids are in — but at rates that are typically lower because the aggregation effectively creates a one-stop shop for providers. But Lewis and other officials said it’s also common for contracts reached through aggregation to sustain lower rates even after their initial terms expire.

The Monroe Gigabit Project’s goals include tripling the number of organizations using gigabit-speed Internet, reducing broadband prices for the aggregate by 50 percent or more, and attracting private investment of more than $1 million in new broadband infrastructure countywide.

Vendors have the option to submit bids to any or all of the 44 members, and to any or all of the 102 service locations they represent.

Lewis, whose other aggregation projects have included a focus on Pennsylvania school districts, said responses to the RFP show organizations should see their gigabit-per-second prices drop by an average of 88 percent, with the steepest reduction reaching 94 percent.

David Parker, director of sales and business development for Lewis Strategic, said one bid in response to this RFP offers a potential client Internet speeds of 1 gigabit for what it had paid for 100 megabit speed. Another bid, he said, offers another project member 1 gigabit speeds for “only 50 percent more” than it had paid for 10 megabit speeds. 

Much of Monroe County still operates on private septic systems and well water, and would greatly benefit from this and infrastructure updates, said Dr. Matt Connell, chairman of the Monroe 2030 Action Team, a group of volunteers working on an economic development plan for 2030.

“I am aware second- and third-hand that the development of a broadband network throughout the county is something that would benefit not just businesses and those seeking employment but the whole community,” said Connell, a dean at Northampton Community College, noting that he has attempted to establish an infrastructure taskforce.

The county, in the Pocono Mountains, has long had reception compromised by its rugged topography, but being less than 100 miles from New York City makes it increasingly attractive to commuters.

State Sen. Mario Scavello, whose district includes 17 of Monroe County’s 20 municipalities, said improving broadband speeds and penetration will only further the area's commercial and residential growth.

“First you need the business to help fund it, help pay for it. The advantage is it’ll be there for the residents to use as well. It’s almost like putting a guest line down the street. But if it was just for the homes, it wouldn’t happen,” Scavello, R-Monroe-Northampton, told Government Technology.

The project, Dellicker said, will “make buyers into more effective consumers” and help them become “market shapers instead of price takers.”

“These organizations are not inclined to look to their neighbors before they go out and purchase their Internet access. However, what their neighbors buy and don’t buy does impact access and price,” he added.

Theo Douglas is assistant managing editor for Industry Insider — California, and before that was a staff writer for Government Technology. His reporting experience includes covering municipal, county and state governments, business and breaking news. He has a Bachelor's degree in Newspaper Journalism and a Master's in History, both from California State University, Long Beach.