Shelby County is set to receive $4,909,178 in Fiscal Recovery Funds, and Charter Communication is receiving up to $11,586,752 in Rural Development Opportunity Funds, pending approval from the FCC. Making this a seamless process to do business in Shelby County will allow for quicker deployment of broadband throughout the county. Particularly given the low broadband availability level (17.9%) in Shelby County, this warrants urgent attention.
Shelby County should review and update ordinances and policies to minimize any barriers to broadband deployment to bring faster broadband buildout to the county.
Action 1 – Assign a person dedicated to leading provider engagements and broadband project review.
Judge Harbison and the Commissioners Court should appoint this person with input from the soon-to-be-named Center Economic Development Director and the County Treasurer, Anne Blackwell. The city of Center is the county seat for Shelby County and houses the Center Economic Development Team, which also launched a separate broadband survey for the city. Housing a dedicated person to be the point of contact is helpful for incoming vendors. The person should be knowledgeable about broadband and remove barriers as appropriate. This appointee’s job description can be expanded, but to start, they should concentrate on bringing faster fixed broadband to Shelby County by making it easy to do business. Part of their duties include working with the Center City Council and the Commissioners Court to update polices and ordinances, along with updating social media sites and government sites with information. A second option is housing a dedicated person in the Shelby County Treasurer’s Office where vendor information is currently stored.
Action 2 – The new broadband manager, Judge Harbison, and the Commissioners Court should review current policies to ensure they are working efficiently and effectively.
Below are some strategies for review:
• Compare local polices around zoning, permitting, and access to rights-of-way (ROW) to other communities that are nearer completion of broadband build-out to enable Shelby County to learn best practices.
• Reach out to providers and host listening sessions to determine any barriers they have encountered with deployment. These may include complicated right-of-way negotiations; leasing pole attachments; county approvals; fees; and other challenges. If patterns emerge, consider policy or process changes. Hosting a listening session with providers can speed up the time it takes to deploy internet in Shelby. Providers can discuss their biggest barriers, such as:
o Permitting processes
o Relationships with pole owners
o Right-of-way issues
Action 3 - Review and update any Shelby County websites with detailed information about broadband deployment in Shelby County.
Currently, vendors are directed to http://www.co.shelby.tx.us/page/shelby.County.Treasurer to start the process of registering with Shelby County, but there is no information available about the process.
Other websites that should be linked to “how to do business in Shelby County” include http://www.co.shelby.tx.us/ , https://shelbycountychamber.com/ , https://www.centertexas.org/city-council/history-center , and http://texassizedopportunities.com/. Additionally, the following information should be made available:
• The local point of contact for broadband deployment projects
• Links to the most current maps: https://connectednation.org/texas/mapping-analysis/
• Detailed application and permit fees and guidance on submitting payment for these fees
• Standards for construction of poles and other infrastructure
• Maintenance policy after the infrastructure is deployed
Action 4 - If necessary, Judge Harbison and the Commissioners Court should update any policies and ordinances that are deemed to create significant and avoidable barriers to broadband deployment.
Judge Harbison, The Commissioners Court, The Center Economic Development Director (a new director is being named at the time of this writing) and County Treasurer Anne Blackwell, Local broadband providers, including Charter Communications