OSWEGO — A 256-page study could serve as a roadmap for internet service providers to expand broadband coverage in Labette County.
Labette County commissioners, who paid $69,350 to Finley Engineering of Lamar, Missouri, to complete the study, accepted the work Monday and reviewed highlights with Jim Zaleski, director of economic development for the town of Parsons. The county funded the study with its American Rescue Plan Act funding from the federal government.
The study included in-depth interviews with county residents, businesses and internet service providers.
The study also listed various broadband speeds in the county, most of which are mediocre. Much of southern Labette County reported download speeds of 10 to 13 megabits per second and upload speeds of 1 Mbps. Oswego reported faster speeds, although County Councilor Brian Johnson, who lives in Oswego, noted that he paid for 25 Mbps download speed and hit 13. It’s supposed to have speed 1 Mbps download. According to the map study, Parsons has the best download speeds at 163 Mbps and 22 Mbps for uploads.
However, there are areas of Parsons that have much slower speeds. Commissioner Cole Proehl said his current residence has much slower speeds than his old home.
Wave Wireless is installing fiber optic internet to a number of homes in rural Labette County. The company received $5.2 million (half grant, half loan) to install fiber in 1,390 homes. Zaleski told commissioners Monday that Galen Manners of Wave Wireless used the study to apply for another grant to serve 130 households in a 26-square-mile area in western Labette County, west of Big Hill Lake. .
“It already serves the purpose it was meant to serve,” Zaleski said of the study.
He hopes internet service providers will use the study to seek grants to bring broadband service to unserved or underserved areas of the county, which make up more than half of the county, mostly in the south. He said Nextlink had received federal funding to bring fixed wireless broadband to certain areas west of Parsons and northwest and southwest of Edna.
Zaleski said one of the next steps is to meet with the state broadband department and seek funding to address these challenges in the county. If Wave Wireless can address part of this territory with fiber internet and CrawKan could address other areas, as well as other providers, the county’s unserved areas could decrease.
The study looked at the costs of providing this service, $33 million for unserved areas of the county and approximately $19 million to bring fiber internet to Parsons due to expressed public dissatisfaction with the broadband quality. The study also noted that Sparklight, one of Parsons’ vendors, is making upgrades to its network at Parsons that could alleviate some of the complaints heard by Finley staff.
Commissioner Terry Weidert was thrilled that Wave Wireless was seeking another grant for homes west of Big Hill. The current Wave Wireless subsidy had to exclude a portion of this territory due to a service provider who may have served this area from Montgomery County.
“There were a lot of people upset because (Wave Wireless fiber is) a quarter mile away,” Weidert said.
The study noted that Wave Wireless and CrawKan were working to bring fiber broadband to rural areas of the county. Still, the study found 1,997 homes and businesses that aren’t supposed to get fiber broadband.
The study recommended buried fiber broadband service over lines draped over utility poles. Adding buried lines would require 318 miles of fiber lines in unserved and underserved areas of the county and 91 miles of fiber lines in Parsons.
Zaleski asked the commissioners if they would consider developing a county-wide land bank, which could be used as a means to create more housing, which is a goal of the land bank in Parsons. Commissioners appeared supportive, and Zaleski said he would return at a later meeting to discuss the matter further. He said smaller communities, such as Bartlett or Labette City, might be able to partner with the county land bank.
County Councilor Johnson said that would require an interlocal agreement approved by the attorney general. He said that when the government places land in a land bank, the land is off the tax rolls and the land bank keeps the property tax free until the land is released or sold. Tax arrears are eliminated from these parcels.
Zaleski told Parsons that not all proposed land is accepted into the land bank. The land must be able to be redeveloped. The land reserve focuses on the construction of houses.
“We were offered a lot of land that is in the floodplain and we said no. Because it would stay in the land bank in perpetuity and not be built,” he said.
He said the exception is if the donated land can be used for mitigation. For example, if a given piece of land was south of a residential area and could be cleared to retain floodwaters and direct them away from homes, that would serve a purpose and the homes would benefit.
“It reallocates land for mitigation,” Zaleski said.
Commissioner Lonie Addis asked if the parcels from the county tax sale that never seem to sell could be donated. Johnson said he typically sees between 80 and 100 packages moving from one sale to the next. These are small lots and most are in Parsons on the floodplain. It could be green space, but the Federal Emergency Management Agency won’t allow houses to be built on it.
Zaleski said the city’s weed complaint letters led to at least one donation. He said a man from Nowata, Oklahoma, came to town about a weed nuisance letter on behalf of his wife for a property she owned in town. She was dead and he didn’t know she owned land in Parsons. The man agreed to donate the plot to the city land bank.
Additionally, Laura Moore, director of community development for the town of Parsons, told commissioners the county could receive $100,000 over two years to use for economic development, affordable housing, transportation and infrastructure from the federal government. . The commissioners agreed to apply for the grant.
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