Northampton Commissioners finalize agreement with UScellular

Published 3:41 pm Friday, September 23, 2022

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JACKSON – An agreement between Northampton County and UScellular has been finalized thanks to a vote of approval from the Board of Commissioners at their meeting here Sept. 19.

Commissioner Geneva Faulkner motioned to accept the agreement, and Commissioner Kelvin Edwards seconded. The vote was unanimously in favor.

Under the terms of the agreement, UScellular will work to bring broadband internet to unserved households in Northampton County, and the county will pay a one-time subsidy that will partially cover the cost of the equipment and installation for each household that signs up.

Representatives from UScellular shared their proposal at the commissioners’ meeting earlier this month. The company is offering “Fixed Wireless Access” (FWA) to connect local homes and businesses to faster, affordable internet. It works through a small externally-mounted antenna on each home that connects wirelessly to a nearby cell tower. The antenna receives signal and then connects to an in-home router which provides wi-fi connection to other devices within the home.

This service would bring broadband speeds ranging from 25/3mps (download/upload) to 50/5mps (download/upload). But some locations closer to the towers could see even higher speeds.

According to research and analysis conducted by UScellular, they estimated that 2,322 households in Northampton County lack affordable access to any high-speed internet service. This “phase one” proposal, however, would only reach an estimated 1,144 of those households.

There is the possibility of future phases of upgrades and expansion of the program, but that was not yet included in this agreement.

County Attorney Scott McKellar explained that the contract is for a one-year term, but can be renewed in the future if necessary.

“For citizens who desire to sign up for this service, the county will be paying a $585 per home support fee for UScellular to provide the fixed wireless access point,” McKellar explained.

That $585 total is comprised of $400 towards the equipment cost and $185 to cover the professional installation cost.

The agreement caps the number of FWA installations at 1,144. The county will be billed quarterly for all installations that took place during the previous quarter.

As previously reported by the News Herald, the county will use federal ARP (American Rescue Plan) funds to pay the subsidy. Board Chair Charles Tyner reiterated that point during Monday’s meeting, noting that the county’s payments will not be coming from the local taxpayers.

“This is a start for us,” Tyner said about the agreement with UScellular. “We’ve got to start somewhere.”

Tyner said during the commissioners’ meeting earlier this month that other companies were also working to bring more broadband access to Northampton County, but they were doing it through fiber, which is a slower and more costly method.

During the Sept. 7 meeting, representatives from UScellular estimated that work on “phase one” could begin as soon as November. Citizens interested in signing up for the service can contact a local UScellular office to check for eligibility.