Three years after taking the first steps to expand broadband in the region, the East Texas Council of Governments (ETCOG) presented a three-phase, $2.6 million plan to Gregg County.
On Wednesday, Gregg County Commissioners heard from CIO Derold Miller and ETCOG Executive Director David Cleveland, who outlined the plan’s various projects and their goals.
Although part of the same plan, the projects are separated and planned in three phases, Miller explained.
Phase 1 involves the county’s partnership with Conterra Networks and supports advanced connectivity and services across the county, Miller said. He described the county’s current WAN as having a “star and hub topology,” meaning it has a data center at the courthouse that branches out and serves 16 locations.
Once the first phase of the plan is implemented, the hub and spoke system will transition to a “ring” system that circulates throughout the county, Miller said.
“Essentially connecting the dots,” County Judge Bill Stoudt said.
“The goal of updating the current network from a star topology to a ring topology is to add a second data center to the Marvin A. Smith Detention Center,” Miller said.
The second data center will serve as a failover or backup in the event the first center fails, Miller said. He called this system an active-active network. Later, Stoudt said the location was chosen because it is in the middle of the county, which makes a good location for the hub. According to Miller, all 16 locations will have access to both data centers at the same time all the time.
“This is a critical way to ensure network reliability to meet current and future usage needs,” Miller said. “Fiber is enabling economic growth throughout the county, that’s evident and local leadership is ensuring the success of this project.”
Cleveland walked the commissioners through Phases 2 and 3 of the plan and began by explaining that while the plan is an effective way to close the gap between urban and rural broadband in the county, it will not meet all County or Region broadband needs.
Phase 2 involves the county partnering with ETCOG to obtain feedback from county officials, stakeholders and interested parties to support the Broadband Action Plan. The $536,000 plan received an Economic Development Administration grant for $375,000 with a local match of $161,000 shared among 14 counties and Economic Development Corporations (EDCs).
“We went to each of the county judges in the 14-county area and asked them to appoint a local project identification team,” Cleveland said. Teams typically include county and city officials, EDC representatives, and Internet Service Providers (ISPs).
The teams were tasked with identifying three to five of the most significant broadband development projects for their respective counties, Cleveland said. Five projects were ultimately identified locally and include four last mile projects and one middle mile project.
Cleveland explained that last mile service is when fiber optic Internet service is delivered to homes or businesses, first mile service typically begins at the ISP junction box, and middle mile service is “everything the rest in between”.
The five projects include Liberty City, Easton, Bar K Ranch at North Eastman Road in Longview, Gladewater and East Loop 281 in Longview. The estimated cost of completing the five projects is $2.6 million.
Phase 3 of the plan would undertake the creation of an intermediate regional network in partnership with ETCOG’s Regional Broadband Initiative. The network’s goal is to remove barriers that ISPs often encounter in the region, Cleveland said.
“This is going to solve a very critical issue that we hear from our economic developers every year and that is that we are losing existing business expansions in our county because not all of our businesses have the broadband service they need at the speed they need (and ) at the price they can afford,” Cleveland said.
The network will help bridge the gap between the county and urban areas, like Dallas and Houston, and ensure all 14 counties have a foundation for full regional connectivity, Cleveland said.
Stoudt said he was worried about competition and asked if different ISPs would have access to the fiber optic network. Cleveland said they would. PCT. 4 Commissioner Shannon Brown asked Cleveland for a timeline for the plan. Cleveland said if commissioners approve the plan at the next meeting, he expects it to be completed within two years.