York County's broadband internet pilot project delayed over rail trail access

Lindsey O'Laughlin
York Dispatch

A divided York County board voted Wednesday to extend a contract with Katapult Engineering, the company managing the county's rail trail broadband internet project, despite objections from one commissioner over lack of access to part of the trail.

The project to build a fiber optic cable network along the York County Heritage Rail Trail was scheduled to be completed by Dec. 31, but the work has been delayed because a portion of the railroad is still owned by Genesee and Wyoming Inc. and the county needs permission to install the cables there.

Commissioner Ron Smith opposed extending the Katapult contract until the county secured right-of-way access from the railroad.

"To me, it’s prudent to wait a little while until we figure this out and then proceed forward," Smith said.

York County Commissioner Ron Smith
Wednesday, September 16, 2020. 
John A. Pavoncello photo

The Katapult contract stipulates the county will pay a maximum of $20,000 per month through the end of March for project management, and Smith said he doesn't want the county paying all that money if there's no work being done.

Commissioner Julie Wheeler said the county will only be billed for services actually rendered, and that the county won't be automatically paying Katapult a daily rate.

The right-of-way issue is expected to be resolved soon, Wheeler said, and York County administrator Mark Derr said he has no reason to believe the railroad will deny access to the county.

The project will likely be complete within two months, Derr said.

The board voted 2-1 to extend the contract with Katapult. Wheeler and Commissioner Doug Hoke voted in favor of the contract. Smith voted no.

The portion of the railroad still owned by G&W runs along King's Mill Road and Indian Rock Dam Road in Spring Garden Township, Derr said.

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Pilot project: In 2020, the York County commissioners used $1.2 million in federal funds from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act for the broadband internet pilot project, spearheaded by the York County Economic Alliance.

In an email Wednesday, Silas Chamberlain, vice president of economic and community development for YCEA, said the fiber optic cable network wouldn't provide internet access on its own, but it could entice an internet service provider to move into the area.

"Having the broadband infrastructure in place is the first step in attracting an ISP, which is typically dissuaded from entering a rural area because of upfront costs of creating the fiber backbone," he said.

Henkels & McCoy employees Kolton Whitsel, left, and Erwin Parson prepare fiber optic cable to be strung through an underground conduit during an installation along the York County Heritage Rail Trail in Codorus Township Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021. The York County Board of Commissioners allocated $5 million from its federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act funding to pay for the the new broadband internet infrastructure. Bill Kalina photo

To ensure that the cable network would actually function and transmit service — a requirement of the CARES Act funding, Chamberlain said — the county installed a wireless antenna at Hanover Junction near Seven Valleys to transmit service to an area covering about one square mile.

Once an ISP moves into the area to use the network, an estimated 16,600 residents and more than 2,000 businesses will have access to high-speed internet service, Chamberlain said, and the antenna will be replaced with permanent infrastructure.

In addition to the pilot project, the county board commissioned a feasibility study in August to find out how much it would cost, and what it would entail, to provide high-speed internet access to all of York County.

Wheeler said she expects to receive a draft report of the study's results within a week, and the results will be presented to the public in early February.

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