The Stokes County School Board unanimously approved a three year bid from Time Warner Cable to provide Wide Area Network (WAN) service for the school system on Tuesday.
The Time-Warner bid, which offered to provide service for the system for $214,320 per year, was the only bid the system received in the second round of solicitations.
Last fall the system had received bids from two other companies, RiverStreet Networks and BroadPlex, but decided to re-solicit bids for WAN service at the request of the Stokes County Board of Commissioners after they raised concerns that Time-Warner Cable’s initial bid had not included sales taxes and thus made it difficult to do a fair comparison between the bids which ranged from $232,848 to $358,800 per year.
The Board of Commissioners has been working RiverStreet Networks for over a year to try and expand high speed internet access to residents in some of the more rural areas of the county, a plan which initially depended partially on getting the school system’s business.
The school board argued that in order to qualify for a federal program called E-Rate, which reimburses the system for 80 percent of it’s WAN expenses, they were required to award the bid to the lowest bidder. Time-Warner had submitted the lowest bid in the fall, beating the other two companies by over $100,000 per year.
Schools Director of Technology Sarah Wood told the board Tuesday that she had called RiverStreet last week before opening the sole bid from Time-Warner to make sure the company’s bid for the second solicitation had not somehow been lost or misplaced.
“They indicated that they had made a decision to not submit a bid,” said Wood.
School Board members said they were very surprised by that decision.
“I am very shocked that they did not even submit a bid after all the discussion we had with everybody involved,” said Board Member Pat Messick.
“It seems very odd,” agreed Board Chair Sonya Cox. “I think we have done our due diligence in this and we went over and above and beyond. This should satisfy everybody that we did all that we could on our part and that this is a good bid.”
Wood noted that the final bid from Time-Warner was $280 less per month than the bid the company submitted in the fall.
The impact not getting the school system’s business will have on RiverStreet Network’s plans to expand service in Stokes County was unclear at press time, but crews can be seen though out the county laying fiber along roadways and the company is rapidly constructing a new building in downtown Danbury which will serve as a central office in the county.
In January, the Board of Commissioners unanimously approved a plan to create a new county based grant program to encourage the expansion of high speed internet services throughout the county.
Under the plan the county will issue a request for proposals to licensed broadband providers to expand service to un-served areas of the county.
If an appropriate provider is identified the county would then offer grant funding for up to 20 percent of the project cost, with the exact amount of funding being determined by the scope of the planned work. Under the plan, the grant funding would be provided during the initial three years of the project and follow-up phases after the first five years of the project would be funded solely by the provider.
County Manager Rick Morris said the county had just recently discovered a state statue which would allow them to provide the grant funding.
Morris said RiverStreet Networks would be eligible to apply for the grant funding even though their project is already under way.
“Anyone can apply,” he said, noting that the new grant program was intended to make sure the county succeeded in expanding broadband. “We are trying to maximize internet connectivity in Stokes County to set us apart from other rural counties. This is a new project though . It is open to everybody and is straight by the statute.
“The whole idea is we need broadband everywhere,” he added. “It affects education, it affects economic development. It is the biggest thing I have ever dealt with as far as the positive impact it will have in the county. I could not rate anything else as more important right now. It is a once in the lifetime opportunity.”
Nicholas Elmes may be reached at 336-591-8191 or on Twitter @NicholasElmes.