With clock ticking, York County aims to get broadband test up and running

Lindsey O'Laughlin
York Dispatch

York County officials hope to build new broadband internet infrastructure along the York County Heritage Rail Trail by Dec. 15 to test the feasibility of providing countywide internet access.

The county Board of Commissioners allocated $5 million from its federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act funding to pay for the project, and the money must be spent by the end of the year.

Silas Chamberlain, of the York County Economic Alliance, is spearheading the project for the county. He said the pilot program has an aggressive timeline but that he's confident it can be completed on time.

At a county board meeting Friday, Commissioner Doug Hoke asked Chamberlain if the short time frame would be included in the request for proposals so contractors would know what to expect.

"That’s a big part of the RFP, and I think that will be a big determinant in who, what contractors are willing to do the work and able to do the work," Chamberlain said.

Prospective bidders have until Wednesday to submit any questions they have about the project, Chamberlain said.

In this May 8, 2019, photo, third-grade student Miles Stidham uses an East Webster High School laptop to do homework in Maben, Miss. The Stidhams are unable to get internet at their home in the country, so they take advantage of the internet in the school's library. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

The county must respond to the bidders Friday, Oct. 9, and the bidders must then submit a final proposal by Oct. 14.

Once all the bids have been submitted, Chamberlain said, the commissioners will review the proposals and decide whether to move forward with the project, based on the costs.

If the county does move forward, construction could begin as soon as Oct. 26, he said, with a completion date of Dec. 15.

"There’s still hope that on a federal level, Congress will take action and extend the CARES Act at least by a couple months or 90 days, but we’re moving forward like it has to be done by the end of the year," Chamberlain said.

With record numbers of people working from home because of COVID-19 and school children using remote learning and video chats to replace time in the classroom, lack of internet access for some York County residents has become a pressing issue.

About 40% of York City residents either can't afford to pay for an internet provider or aren't aware of some of the more affordable options available, Chamberlain has said, and accessibility problems affect both rural and urban communities.

Chamberlain will return to the Board of Commissioners with regular updates as the project progresses, he said.

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