Arrowhead Electric broadband project slowed by bureaucracy

When the Arrowhead Electric Cooperative, Inc (AECI) newsletter The High Line By Line went out to customers in May, it included an update on the electric cooperative’s efforts to bring broadband Internet service to Cook County. The newsletter reassured cooperative members that although progress is slow—only 100 miles of the 800 planned miles of fiber optic cable have been installed— work is still progressing.
Unfortunately, AECI CEO Jeanne Muntean said the installation of broadband is not imminent.
Muntean said the process of receiving economic stimulus funds from the USDA Rural Utilities Service (RUS) for the $22 million broadband build out is taking longer than expected. “It’s bureaucracy,” Muntean said in a phone conversation on May 8.
Something she is used to, said Muntean, noting that RUS funding for projects on the “electrical side” has been known to take up to two years. With million dollar projects involving federal government funding, progress is frequently slow. “This is a $22 million project. Arrowhead’s entire physical plant is $23 million. It takes a lot of planning to complete projects like this,” she said.
The broadband project is complicated by the fact that it is new to everyone—including AECI’s contacts at RUS. “RUS was handed a plateful of projects all at once,” said Muntean. “There are over 300 projects under way at this time in the United States. RUS has to do its due diligence. With all of these awards in the United States, it has slowed things down for everyone.”
AECI continues to work with its RUS general field representative (GFR) and the cooperative is using the time to continue planning, said Muntean. She said the deadline for completion is now June 2015. She said AECI still has a contract with Pulse Broadband for design and engineering on the broadband project. Mastec is still the construction company.
“It is like building an electric system from scratch and our focus is on making sure we do everything right according to federal policy,” said Muntean. She added, “This project means so much for the people of Cook County and I know that Arrowhead is up for the task.”