ALPENA - During Tuesday's Alpena County Road Commission meeting, it was announced that nonprofit co-op Allband had altered some of its intended routes for installing fiber optics, which would provide rural community members access to much-needed, high-speed Internet service.
The board, which previously had approved a reduction in its permit fees for Allband, was concerned by the move and raised questions as to why the modification was taking place. Allband CEO Ron Siegel said the group was awarded a $10 million grant from the federal government to expand services in remote parts of Alpena, Montmorency and Alcona counties, and is intended to provide services where companies such as Verizon and Charter don't. He said because Allband is using taxpayers' money, it is prudent to invest where the fiber is installed wisely.
"As we got down to actually working with people, we found getting people to sign applications was another whole step. Until you start getting the applications, you aren't going to invest the taxpayers' money in an area," Siegel said. "The reason the routes have been changing is not because we don't want to serve people, it's because there was nobody on the route who has committed to service. If we have an area that is going to cost $50,000 to build and we can't commit the people to take the service, we can't invest the money into that route. Later on, if they come back and say we do want service, then we can come back and build it."
Siegel said some of the areas in the plan are very remote, and the likelihood of a larger company investing in infrastructure is unlikely. He said that is why the government granted the money to expand services where large companies don't expand.
"The whole idea of the grant is to get the infrastructure built for people and to fill a void," he said. "At the same time I have a duty to spend the money responsibly. That is what I'm trying to do. It's not like we are trying to avoid investment and serving people, but we don't want to put the money into a route if there is no point to it. We take the money and go focus on the areas where there is interest. How do you think the government would react if I went out and spent $100,000 to install the fiber on a road where nobody is using it?"
Siegel said if the road commission had any questions about why there was a change in plans, all it had to do was call. He said if questions linger about the service, plan and project cleanup, all they have to do is talk to the other counties and the state.
"If you talk to MDOT or Alcona County, they will tell you we have always addressed cleanup, and we have always addressed maintenance," Siegel said. "If there are concerns why didn't they call me? Why didn't they call someone else who knows our work? These are all government drafted contacts and bonded and protected. Our projects are reviewed by the government and we are fully audited. We know what we are doing.
"I just wish if the road commission had concerns about what we are doing, they would have called, but now I feel my image is slightly tarnished, which really isn't fair, because we were doing everything by the book and being responsible."
Steve Schulwitz can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 358-5689.