Big River moves forward on seven-county broadband project

Thursday, September 2, 2010

While executives at Big River Telephone finalize paperwork for $24 million in federal stimulus funding, the company's plans to install a seven-county wireless broadband network are moving forward.

When it's completed, the project will provide broadband access to 90 percent of the residents in the seven-county area. Home telephone service through Big River will also be an option for customers who use its broadband service, said Kevin Cantwell, Big River president.

It may take up to 60 days before the federal funding is in place, but once all documents are completed the first customers should have service within six months, Cantwell said. According to the terms of the federal funding Big River can take no longer than 20 months to provide services.

Which parts of the seven-county area will have access to service first isn't being publicly released at this time, Cantwell said.

People may receive the new Big River wireless broadband service either through an approximately 6-by-8-inch device mounted to the outside of their home or through a USB device plugged into their computer.

The company will also offer voice and data services for cell phones.

Cantwell said his company is hosting a series of seminars in the rural communities it will serve to explain how businesses can use the service to help them grow.

The lack of Internet service in outlying areas limits what developers can do there, said John Mehner, president and CEO of the Cape Girardeau Area Chamber of Commerce.

Larry Tucker, Perry County economic development director, said the project "will provide a real benefit" to his county's rural areas.

Currently Perry County's outlying areas are in need of affordable and reliable broadband access, he said. For rural customers satellite Internet service is the only choice, and it's often disrupted by weather, Tucker said.

"As with any business service or product, when options are available to the customer, prices typically become more competitive and attractive," he said.

As a condition of its federal funding, Big River must offer lower cost Internet for students, seniors and low-income individuals. It's proposed a rate of $14.99 per month for those groups but has not yet announced the rest of its rate structure.

Cantwell said there will be a free public broadband access spot in each of the seven counties. Specific sites are still being determined but will be offered in downtown areas, Cantwell said.

Radio frequency studies are being done to take into account the terrain and potential obstructions to signals. Those results will be used to determine the location of about 70 towers Big River will use.

"We are already in discussions with most of the land owners," Cantwell said. In some cases, Big River will lease space on existing towers, including those used for cell phones, but about half of the 70 towers needed will have to be constructed.

A total of 1,300 jobs will be created during the construction of the broadband network, most filled by subcontractors on the project, Cantwell said.

Four new senior-level employees have been hired at Big River already, and the company will be adding 75 more permanent employees to its staff.

"We are getting four or five resumes a day," Cantwell said.

The company's website has a new page for its broadband project, where it's accepting resumes from job seekers and proposals from property owners interested in leasing land for broadband towers.

Sales and service offices will be in each of the seven counties, creating jobs for installers, technicians and customer service positions.

Walt Williams, economic development director for the city of Farmington, Mo., said Big River's plans to renovate a building in the downtown area that will employ 40 workers will give his city a boost.

"It's going to be a win-win situation for local merchants and other businesses in the downtown area," Williams said. "There's been a buzz here ever since the project was announced, and we are waiting on pins and needles for it to come."

Other regional offices for Big River's broadband project are planned in Jackson, Perryville, Ste. Genevieve, Fredericktown, Marble Hill and Potosi.

mmiller@semissourian.com

388-3646

Pertinent Address:

24 S. Minnesota Ave., Cape Girardeau, MO

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