Citizens Mutual received a Notice of Intent to Award from OCIO’s NOFA 7 Broadband Grant Program of Empower Rural Iowa last week.
Citizens Mutual learned it could receive a total of $6,376,068.82 from the program for the Northeast Wapello County Fiber to the Premises Project and the West Wapello County Fiber to the Premises Project.
The Citizens Mutual Board and Wapello County are working on the details that will determine whether the grant will be accepted.
The grant is administered through the state, but made possible through the federal coronavirus bills that were passed.
General Manager of Citizens Mutual, Vince Tyson, said this is the biggest grant the cooperative has received so far, and it is technically two grants — $3,590,816.98 for the Northeast Wapello County Project and $2,785,251.84 for the West Wapello County Project.
Tyson said Citizens Mutual asked for 48% of the total amount of the two projects and the amount granted is about one million short of the amount requested.
“We need to redo our cost estimates and then decide if the grant award is large enough for the project to make financial sense,” he said.
Since both projects are in Wapello County, Tyson hopes the Wapello County Supervisors will commit additional funding if needed.
“Eighty percent of Wapello County will be on fiber if this goes through,” Tyson said. “For rural Wapello County, this is a big deal.”
Nearly all of Davis County has Broadband service thanks to Citizens Mutual and Farmers Cooperative out of Moulton.
“Some people right outside the Census block area are not served,” Tyson said. “Someday the maps will be redone and then we may be able to add about 50 homes when those areas are eligible for funding.
Emphasizing the need for rural broadband, Tyson said, “When people buy a house today, they look at broadband service. The selling point for rural Iowa is quality of life, and the biggest selling point”
Tyson said what Citizens Mutual will do in Wapello County is what the company is already offering in Davis County.
Asked how the proposed Wapello County project will affect Citizens Mutual’s workforce, Tyson said the cooperative would have to add technicians and possibly front office staff.
“We don’t need any more management,” he said, “but the number of frontline employees added will depend on the number of customers who sign up.”
Tyson said one of the reasons for expansion is additional stability for Citizens Mutual. “We rely on federal funds to subsidize our projects,” he said, “but expansion allows us to be less reliant on those funds. This will put us in a good position in the future.
“By having a larger customer base, it will help us keep our prices stable.”
Tyson said Citizens Mutual has a five-year window to complete the project. “We will build as fast as the cash flow allows us to,” he said.