Part of York County rescue funds to go toward broadband

Matt Enright
York Dispatch

After finishing a pilot project laying 16 miles of fiber-optics along the Heritage Rail Trail, York County officials said they hadn't met their goal of making fast and affordable internet available to all residents.

And the county commissioners took another step toward that end during their meeting Wednesday.

The York County Board of Commissioners voted 3-0 to allocate up to $25 million of its share of the American Rescue Plan Act funding toward recommendations by the York County YoCo Fiber Optic Task Force. 

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YoCo Fiber Optic Task Force Executive Director Silas Chamberlain told the board the reason for the investment was to create a "middle mile" network intended to serve as the last connection for residents and businesses. Middle miles link a network operator's core network to customers.

"Our vision is pretty simple: that every household and business in York County should have access to affordable, high-quality internet if they so wish," Chamberlain said. "We know that's a simple vision but one that is very complex, and it will take some work to get there."

In its recommendations, the YoCo Task Force created a middle mile network of seven rings to create a "dark fiber" backbone that will encourage network providers to provide fiber optic connections to homes and business in York County. A dark fiber network is an unused optical fiber that can be used in communication.

Among the recommendations to the board: 

  • Complete the design and construction of rings four, five and six of the middle mile network, which is estimated to cost $18,275,451 when combining engineering and construction costs. Contracts for these would be publicly bid and brought to the Board of Commissioners for approval. Chamberlain said those areas are prioritized because they're the parts of the county with the least amount of service and can leverage the 16 miles of fiber-optics that's already been installed.
  • Complete an inventory and evaluation of county owned and leased 911 towers for future deployment.
  • Address the urban digital divide by designing and implementing wireless networks for the York City and Hanover metro areas. "The difference in the urban areas is that there may be fiber present but there's other barriers to accessing it, like the home isn't wired for it or the landlord hasn't signed up for it yet," Chamberlain said. "So moving to a wireless network in our urban settings allows anybody to access those networks." 
  • Completing a request for proposal to determine the interest by a private provider to run fiber-optics directly onto users' properties. This would gauge interest and determine investment, which in turn would lead to revenue for the county.

Board Vice President Doug Hoke also asked about  the philosophy behind expansion of broadband, questioning if it was about assisting providers in providing access to residents and businesses. Chamberlain said that was correct, but the other philosophy behind it was if you allow  network access to your dark fiber network, stipulations can be put on it to protect consumers.

"Some of the more predatory practices, you have control over that because they're relying on you for being able to light up their network," Chamberlain said.