May 9—Rogers County Commissioners approved Atlas Broadband to break ground and begin building a tower in Oologah — the start of a $16 million project to make hard-wired internet available to the entire county.
"We are one of the first counties to undertake this big of a project," District II Commissioner Steve Hendrix said. "We are going to make hard-wired internet available to every house in the county."
Commissioners approved a utility permit for Atlas Broadband to begin work near Ruby Estates in Inola.
"One of our first projects is in Inola in the [Ruby Estates] is totally underserved, basically without internet and we are going to have that be our first hybrid project," Hendrix said. "This is one of the ways we are going to reach areas where the main AT&T lines or whatever the bigger companies are, can't reach those."
The Commissioners are starting in Chelsea, Oologah and Inola and then will branch out to the more rural areas, he said. Hendrix said the hope is that the project will show bigger internet providers there is solution to providing internet in rural areas.
"It's not profitable for [bigger carriers] to lay lines in rural areas so we've got a hybrid solution that will bounce off of one tower and then provide hard-wired internet to everyone in that neighborhood," Hendrix said. "So we're starting there as kind of a test or a prototype to show the bigger companies, 'Hey, we can do this. We have a solution.'"
Hendrix said Commissioners have a verbal agreement with a major carrier, who can't be named as the agreement isn't final, where the carrier will provide a dollar-for-dollar match on certain areas of the project. Commissioners are tapping into American Rescue Plan Act funds, as well as internet-specific grants to pay for the project.
"We are using some of the ARPA money to initiate the project but we will be tapping into other federal pools of money that are going to be allocated specifically for broadband in the form of grants to reach the total amount," Hendrix said.
The project works in tandem the federal Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP), created by the Biden administration. Under the ACP, eligible households can receive $30 per month off of their internet bills.
Three different metrics determine if a household is eligible for the ACP credit — A household income under 200% of the Federal Poverty Guidelines ($27,180 for a household of 1, $36,620 for 2, $55,500 for 4), someone in the household participates in one of 10 governmental assistance programs or a someone meets the eligibility criteria for a participating broadband provider's existing low-income internet program. Anyone interested can sign up at getinternet.gov.
"If you take [a participating broadband provider's] lowest level plan, it is $30," Hendrix said. "Basically, it's going to amount to free internet service."