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City Council OKs bidding for federal grant to fund broadband development for FEUS

Hannah Grover
Farmington Daily Times

FARMINGTON — The Farmington City Council approved moving forward with a grant process that could allow it to eventually provide internet service to utility customers.

The Rural Digital Opportunity Fund auction is Oct. 29 and Farmington will be one of the entities bidding for federal funding to provide broadband to rural areas. This comes after a 3-1 City Council vote on Oct. 27 during a meeting that can be viewed online at fmtn.org.

This does not necessarily mean the city will move forward with the project even if awarded the grant.

Farmington has contracted with consultants to complete a feasibility study that it hopes will be done before the City Council must make a decision that would commit the city to offering the service.

It could face fines of $3,000 per eligible census tracts if it is awarded the bid but chooses not to move forward with the project. There are 51 eligible census tracts within Farmington’s service area. The Federal Communications Commission has not always levied the fines.

Councilor Janis Jakino cast a dissenting vote.

"I'm not confident that this is a good direction for the taxpayers," she said. "The numbers just don't seem to make sense and I don't think we need to lay this at their hands."

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Additionally, Jakino expressed concerns about going into competition with the private sector.

"If it was feasible, I question why they haven't done it already," she said.

Councilor Linda Rodgers said she does have concerns, but the decision the council made on Tuesday was whether the city wanted to proceed with the bidding for the grant.

"We'll be doing a huge disservice to our citizens and to our rural areas if we don't at least take a look," she said. "Right now we're just looking at tidbits. We're just scratching the surface. I think it would be foolish, maybe, to not dig deeper."

Meanwhile, both Mayor Nate Duckett and Rodgers highlighted potential economic development opportunities. Duckett said the city is trying to attract people who work in location-neutral jobs to relocate to Farmington. These people rely on high-speed internet access.

More:Should Farmington offer internet service as part of its utility service?

While the city could be competing with private internet service providers within city limits, Doug Dawson said it is unlikely that the private companies would develop broadband for rural areas within Farmington Electric Utility System’s service area. Dawson is the president of CCG Consulting, which was hired by the city as part of the feasibility study. The rural areas of the service area are expected to have a higher subscription rate.

A final decision on moving ahead with offering internet service to utility customers will come at a later date once the council has more information.

Duckett said the city should only move forward with offering internet service if it can do so without relying on taxpayers or ratepayers to subsidize the service. He also said the city must be able to handle the service component. 

Hannah Grover covers government for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4652 or via email at hgrover@daily-times.com.

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