County spurns idea for broadband expansion

AUBURN – Nemaha County commissioners told Pinpoint Communications they are not ready to partner with the private company in a proposal to expand broadband Internet to rural areas.

Commissioner Bryan Mellage said the Cambridge, Neb.,  telecommunications company is asking rural counties to use a portion of American Recovery Act funds to improve rural broadband.

Mellage said rural Nemaha County is in desperate need of faster internet, but the county board is not ready to commit to any funds.

He said the county has not received actionable guidance from the federal government on how the American Recovery Act funds can be used and he is not sure public funds should be used to establish private infrastructure.

Lesley Clark of the Auburn Development Council said Nemaha County has an unprecedented opportunity to invest in broadband expansion at this scale.

She said state lawmakers passed the Nebraska Broadband Bridge Act, LB 388, because they recognized the need for public and private partnerships.

Clark: "Broadband is not a luxury anymore. It's a necessity to attract talent."

Mellage’s own business, Mellage Trucking, uses Internet daily and he says it would benefit from faster speeds. He said faster internet would help the county attract more young people and allow more people to work from home.

Mellage: “I think as a society, we’re going to have to address the need  to bring broadband from the cities to the rural areas.”

Mellage said he is interested in seeing if financing for expanding rural broadband can come from grants and private investment, rather than county funds.

Clark called the board's decision Wednesday a missed opportunity.

Clark: "I hope we can get it back on track."