Warren County government’s efforts to expand broadband coverage here took a big step forward this week with the release Tuesday of a formal Request For Proposal. 

Potential vendors now have a chance to bid on a solution that will require an investment of county funds, which Joe Freddoso of Mighty River, LLC, Warren County’s broadband consultant, previously estimated at somewhere between $500,000 and $3 million over a period of 4 to 5 years.

According to a news release from the county, three sectors have been identified as needing new or improved service: unserved areas, higher population density areas servicing residents and businesses, and government facilities.

“I’m excited that Warren County has made it to this point in our efforts to secure broadband countywide,” County Manager Vincent Jones said in the release. “We really have to thank our board of commissioners, current and former staff members, along with our committed residents who have kept this issue relevant.”

Last summer, Freddoso discussed with county leaders in a public meeting how grants and partnerships could bring about broadband expansion in a more cost effective and timely manner than what was outlined in a 2017-18 broadband feasibility study conducted by RiverStreet Networks. Options described in the study carried estimated costs between $8 million and $38 million and projections of taking up to 15 years to complete.

In September, members of the public had a chance to discuss problems they had with current internet capabilities. Issues described by residents from across the county ranged from lack of internet access where they lived to limited internet capabilities that prevented them from working from home.

During both meetings, Freddoso suggested that a solution could be found through an existing broadband network serving Warren County Schools, allowing for the possibility that a service provider could lease unused portions of the fiberoptic network to serve as the backbone of a county system.

Freddoso cautioned citizens in September that the expense of the project may prevent broadband service from being expanded to every corner of the county, such as to people who live in the last houses on roads in sparsely populated areas. He said that the RFP would note such areas, and that grant funding and incentives could help address the problem.

During the Warren County commissioners’ work session last month, Freddoso said that the vendor who provides fiber for Warren County Schools has already committed to leasing its fiber. 

He called a petition provided to the county in September of 250 signatures of lake residents who want broadband service a “very powerful statement,” and said that vendors would be asked to consider areas of the county with price sensitivity.

Freddoso said that once a vendor is chosen, there will be accountability standards that would require the provider to come before the public in a forum at least once yearly for reporting, in particular because of the investment of county funds.

The RFP, a timeline and the RiverStreet Networks feasibility study can be found on the county website at warrencountync.com, under Community, Broadband Initiative.

A single vendor or multiple vendors may submit proposals to serve all or some of the service areas.

An RFP overview meeting is tentatively scheduled for Jan. 21 by Web conference. All questions from vendors are due by Jan. 30 to rfp@warrencountync.gov. RFP responses are due by March 4 at 5 p.m.