Companies working in Maries County to improve internet access

Messersmith, Barnhart agree to serve on EEZ Board

By Laura Schiermeier, Staff Writer
Posted 11/10/21

MARIES COUNTY — Last week Maries County Presiding Commissioner Victor Stratman was one of about 18 persons who were part of a virtual meeting with Wisper Internet, an internet service provider …

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Companies working in Maries County to improve internet access

Messersmith, Barnhart agree to serve on EEZ Board

Posted

MARIES COUNTY — Last week Maries County Presiding Commissioner Victor Stratman was one of about 18 persons who were part of a virtual meeting with Wisper Internet, an internet service provider out of Osage Beach. The commissioners are interested in expanding internet everywhere in Maries County but have found they have little control of it because the costs are so large. Still the commissioners have continued to seek more information whenever possible.

 At the virtual meeting, Stratman said Wisper is a fixed wireless internet company as it’s like a satellite but much closer and it works better. Several years ago, the federal government appropriated money to be used to improve broadband, calling it the Connect America Fund. Maries County’s portion of this fund was $3.7 million. At that time, the commissioners were informed Wisper would receive some of this money to improve internet service in Maries County. Then they didn’t hear anything from the company for a long time. Stratman said the company won’t get the money until it does something. Osage County’s payment from this fund was reported to be $7 million. Wisper’s service area is from Jefferson City to Sikeston. 

Wisper is putting up three towers in Maries County and plans to place three more in the county. The company has new technology, Tanara, which allows users to receive broadband service through trees. Putting up a tower costs an average of $125,000. A tower can serve users six to eight miles away or more with a booster with internet speeds up to 400 Mbps. There is an initial fee to begin the service and then a monthly fee. A contract is not required.

Also in a virtual meeting, Stratman and others talked to Gasosage Electric Co-op about fiber optic internet, which Stratman said “is the gold standard.” The electric co-op wants to extend fiber optic internet to all of its customers. 

Three Rivers Electric Co-op has remained quiet on the internet provider topic as it’s too expensive to offer to all of its customers and they didn’t get any of the Connect America Funds. Also there are concerns the company will spend millions bringing internet to its customers and new technology will come along leaving the electric co-op with a large financial investment and a competitor offering its customers a better price. Stratman said Three Rivers is worth $100 million in assets and as a co-op, shares its profits with its members. It will take $100 million to bring internet to all of its customers. If they fail, the co-op will have to raise rates. 

Also there is Elon Musk and his Starlink company that promotes satellite internet that can’t be blocked (think China and Russia) to people all over the world.

Eastern District Commissioner Doug Drewel said all of this may be obsolete in two years. If the government wants the people to have it, the government may eventually “give it to us.”

Stratman said Gascosage said it will turn a profit in about six years with its internet infrastructure project. 

Western District Commissioner Ed Fagre said Gascosage was burying fiber optic several years ago in Maries County and paid Road One $4,000 for the messes they made on the county roads.  Stratman said the company has about 15,000 meters in the Dixon/Bell Chute/ Iberia areas and has identified about 8,000 actual locations which would use internet. The internet speeds to choose from will be 100 mbps, 250 mbps and 400 mbps at monthly prices ranging from $49 to $94. 

The commissioners also were informed about the Emergency Broadband Benefit program that can discount up to $50 per month to assist payment for internet service for families who have struggled to afford it. Eligible households also can receive a one-time discount of up to $100 to purchase a laptop, desktop computer, or tablet from participating providers if they contribute more than $10 and less than $50 toward the purchase price. 

This discount is available for those who meet income and household eligibility guidelines. These include income at or below 135 percent of the federal poverty guidelines, participate in certain assistance programs such as SNAP, Medicaid, or Lifeline, approved to receive free or reduced price school lunch program,  received a Federal Pell Grant during the award year, experienced substantial loss of income due to job loss or furlough, has a household income in 2000 at or below $99,000 for single filers and $198,000 for joint filers, or meeting the eligibility criteria for a participating provider’s existing low-income or COVID-19 program. 

The funds are not sent to the individual or family, but are paid to the broadband service provider. Go to GetEmergencyBroadband.org to apply online and to find participating providers near you. After applying, you will have to contact a participating provider to select an eligible plan. Call 833-511-0311 for a mail-in application, and return it along with copies of documents showing proof of eligibility.

New members

Last week after the commissioners discussed needing two new members of the Maries County Enhanced Enterprise Zone (MCEEZ) board. One was to be a school representative. Stratman spoke with Maries R-1 School Superintendent Teresa Messersmith and she agreed to serve on the board. Kelly Barnhart, who currently serves as secretary for the very busy Vienna Chamber of Commerce, also has agreed to serve on the enterprise zone board as the member at large. Each position is a three-year term.

Insurance renewal 

County Clerk Rhonda Rodgers reported the MOPERM renewal premium for insurance and liability insurance on all of the county’s property, vehicles, equipment, buildings, jail, law enforcement, employee liability and more is $99,981. Rodgers said this is actually less than last year. 

Sunshine Law

The commissioners looked over a recent judgment by Circuit Judge John Beger, on the lawsuit which Ron and Anne Calzone filed against the county commissioners regarding closing their meetings when they were observing the governor’s stay at home order and they closed the courthouse to the public because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Judge Beger said the governor’s stay at home order can’t be used as a reason to close the meeting to the public because there is no emergency clause in the Sunshine Law to excuse giving adequate notice of closing the meeting and attending their meeting by phone or moving the meeting to another space to allow adequate distancing. Also, the commissioners did not make adequate provision for the public to be present April 6, remotely if not in person. There were eight other meetings in April that did have phone lines and numbers available for the public to attend. Judge Beger said the commissioners did not violate the Sunshine Law for those meetings. The Calzones were not seeking monetary damages.

Eastern District Commissioner Doug Drewel wondered how much this lawsuit actually cost the county if they figured time and the people involved and the prosecuting attorney’s time and his help. Stratman said, “He would have been working on something else. I’m satisfied. I was really sick of it.”

Courthouse closed

The commissioners said the courthouse will be closed on Thursday, Nov. 11 in observance of Veterans Day. Also, the courthouse will be closed on Thursday and Friday, Nov. 25 and 26 for the Thanksgiving holiday. The commissioners will have only one meeting both of those weeks. They will meet on the Mondays. 

MOCA Mobile Office

The Missouri Ozarks Community Action agency (MOCA) will have its mobile office van at the Vienna Library the first and third Wednesdays of the month so the next date for it to be there is Nov. 17. It will be at the Belle Library on Nov. 10 and 24, which are the second and fourth Wednesdays. Times to get assistance with MOCA programs from the mobile office van are from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.

MCR 325

Fagre said he plans to have a Jefferson City company seal the asphalt on MCR 325, which is Old Highway 63 from the new Highway 63 south of Vienna to Moreland’s Catfish Patch and the Gasconade River. This is the second time this will be done to that previous state highway that was given to the county. The company will blow out the cracks and fill them in. Fagre said he wants to get this done before winter. He added if this is not taken care of it will become a much bigger problem.

Change in ARPA rules

The commissioners received an unsolicited letter from an engineering firm informing them of a potential major change in allowable uses for American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funding. If approved by the US House, it will increase the local control of ARPA funds. It will allow the county to use up to $10 million or 30 percent of its ARPA money for transportation and infrastructure projects, government services, and natural disaster response. 

The engineering firm stated this is a good opportunity to complete a project that does not fit into the current BRO program or a project the county does not have a strong funding source for. 

Building and grounds

The number two pump on the boiler was leaking and it has been fixed. Stratman said it was air locked and as long as the air was in there it could not fire. The custodian will handle it now. Also the heater in the 911 office is leaking and needs to be fixed.

The old judge and witness stand is still in the judges’ room just off of the courtroom upstairs and it has been suggested it be removed. Stratman said there is no carpet under the large, wooden fixture and it won’t look right and it could be a trip hazard. He said they’ve spent enough money on the courthouse this year and will look at this project for next year.

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