A legislative panel on Wednesday signed the state’s Commerce Department’s $ 2.2 million draft contract with the Broadband Development Group of Little Rock to create a plan to implement broadband across the board. ‘State.
The eight-member executive subcommittee of the Legislative Council completed its review of the proposed contract without any audible dissent and without asking questions. The council had previously authorized the executive subcommittee to make a final decision on the proposed contract in order to expedite the work of a broadband consultant.
Last week, the panel delayed consideration of the proposed contract after the Commerce Department’s executive director of broadband, Steven Porch, surprised lawmakers by suggesting that the department issue a new request for proposals to hire a consultant to develop the implementation plan.
Porch’s suggestion to issue a new request for proposals came after the trade department secretaries; Finance and administration; and Parks, Heritage and Tourism has chosen the Broadband Development Group as a consultant.
Parks, Heritage and Tourism Secretary Stacy Hurst told the executive subcommittee on Wednesday that state lawmakers on the U.S. Arkansas bailout steering committee appointed by Governor Asa Hutchinson have called for the creation of a broadband master plan at its June 2 meeting; and senators and representatives suggested the development of a master plan at the June 18 Legislative Council meeting.
After the first meeting on July 8 of the Governor’s Cabinet Broadband Working Group led by Hurst, and “with the Governor’s approval, we have made efforts to work with Parliament to seek a consultant to create a master plan for the deployment of broadband, âshe said. .
âIt is obvious to all of us that I believe that at this stage in the history of our State and with this [federal] the funding we have that a fresh look and a roadmap would be both timely and helpful, âHurst told state lawmakers with Secretary of Commerce Mike Preston and Secretary of Finance and Administration Larry Walther at his side to show their support for the proposed contract with Broadband Development Group.
In March, President Joe Biden enacted the $ 1.9 trillion US bailout law, designed to help the United States recover from the economic and health effects of the coronavirus pandemic.
Hurst said state officials had explored their options to hire a broadband consultant with the Office of Government Procurement.
“We chose to go through a most beneficial proposal process,” mainly because it allowed competition through a request for proposals, and it’s a faster and somewhat new process, he said. she declared.
Hurst said the purchasing office has asked state officials to draft a general work plan for this RFP. She acknowledged that the scope of work has been a concern for some legislators.
A state agency usually indicates what it wants through this process, and salespeople paint a picture of what they recommend based on their expertise, method, or business model, she said. .
“The map [most advantageous proposal process] is not a simple tender where the scope of work has to be very defined and then the lowest bidder is selected in this process, âexplained Hurst.
She said she provided a draft of the scope of work “broadly enough”, including to a dozen state lawmakers, officials from the Ministry of Commerce and the Ministry of Finance and Administration, and the office. state broadband.
There are probably many ways the scope of work could have been drafted and continued to provide the necessary guidance for a proper response, Hurst said.
She said the scope of the work could have been improved.
âDid we have any ulterior motives in writing it the way we did? Absolutely not,â said Hurst. “We conducted the process in a transparent manner. We sought feedback. We acted in good faith and with the guidance of the state procurement office.”
The Broadband Development Group is one of three companies that submitted proposals after the RFP was released on August 16. The deadline for submitting proposals was August 23. Deloitte Consulting and CostQuest Associates also submitted proposals.
Broadband Development initially submitted a proposal for a price of $ 2.75 million, while CostQuest Associates of Cincinnati submitted a proposal for a cost of $ 533,600 and Deloitte Consulting LLP of Austin, TX proposed. to do the job for $ 489,273, according to state records.
The proposals were rated by state officials based on cost and a technical review by an information technology employee from the departments of commerce, finance and administration, and parks, heritage and tourism.
CostQuest Associates’ proposal received the highest score at 881.7; Deloitte Consulting’s proposal received the second highest score at 801.7; and Broadband Development’s proposal was rated at 461.3, according to state records.
Hurst said Wednesday that the three providers are offering different approaches to assess the current availability of broadband in Arkansas through field audits or “field boots” in the state and are offering different plans to conduct. community awareness activities.
After the technical and financial scoring was completed, she said the three department secretaries had started a more in-depth assessment of the three proposals and the vendors were providing more documentation and details.
State information technology experts and the US bailout consultant, the Center for Toxicology and Environmental Health, were also involved in those discussions, Hurst said.
“I am convinced that this process has led us to the most advantageous proposal and to a result which will be in the best interest of the state,” she said. “We hope we can go ahead today and hire a consultant and start the important work of increasing connectivity in Arkansas.”
So far, the Commerce Department has spent about $ 275 million on broadband grants through the Arkansas Rural Connect program.
Three weeks ago, Hutchinson set a goal of providing an additional $ 250 million in grants funded by federal bailout funds by the end of the year.
The Broadband Development Group board of directors includes Aaron Bragg, son of Rep. Ken Bragg, R-Sheridan and Ryan Holder, husband of Arkansas Highways Commissioner Marie Holder, according to state records. Records show Aaron Bragg owns a 10% stake and Ryan Holder has a 5% stake.
Lawyer Martha Hill is a registered lobbyist for the Broadband Development Group, while the Gilmore Strategy Group – led by Hutchinson chief policy strategist and former deputy chief of staff Jon Gilmore – is a registered lobbying firm for Deloitte Consulting, according to the secretary of state’s website. Hill is the wife of US Representative French Hill, R-Ark. CostQuest Associates does not have a registered lobbyist in Arkansas, according to a search of the Secretary of State’s website on Wednesday afternoon.