Joint App Seeks to Bring Broadband Access Points to Willow, West Plains

by Amanda Mendez, publisher
At the City Council meeting on August 20, City Administrator Beverly Hicks addressed Mayor Brooke Fair and the Board of Aldermen on the opportunities the city is pursuing because of the availability of CARES Act funds in the County. The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act) is a stimulus bill that distributed more than $2 trillion in federal funds into the economy. In Howell County, the Howell County Commission is responsible for dispensing the $4.7 million in funds available for local agencies. 
The City of Willow Springs received nearly $4,000 in Phase I of funding, but is working on a joint application to access funding in Phase II, Hicks reported. 
The City of Willow Springs, City of West Plains, West Plains School District, and Willow Springs School District are working together on their Phase II applications. The goal is to expand a pilot program the City of West Plains has undertaken to expand the installation of broadband fibers from West Plains to Pomona. The City of Willow Springs could then string the connection to Willow Springs, ultimately providing free, publicly available access spots to broadband-powered internet service. The school districts in both cities are collaborating with the two municipal governments because the public access points could be a useful tool for students, especially if mandatory distance learning becomes a reality this school year. 
In a phone interview on August 27, Superintendent of Schools Bill Hall said, “If it benefits our community, it’s a win-win.”
Independent of the broadband access spot project, Hall said the school district has submitted their own application for reimbursement of funds spent on PPE, technology, Chromebooks, hot spots that provide internet through a phone signal, and “a lot of sanitation supplies.”
Phase II applications were due on August 31, and the Commission is expected to make funding decisions by September 25. In a phone interview, Presiding Commissioner Mark Collins said the joint application “possibly can” fit the criteria set forth for eligibility for CARES Act funds. 
“It all depends how you look at it,” said Collins. At the time of the interview on August 27, the Commission had not received the application in question, and Collins could not comment further. 
At the City Council meeting, Hicks expressed her concern that the application would be denied. 
The four agencies are all writing letters of support for each other, she said on August 20. Council members asked if there was anything they could do to assist, and Hicks said it might help if they reached out to the County Commissioners in support of the project.
So far in Phase II of funding, the Commission has awarded the following amounts to these agencies:
-West Plains R-7 School District   $476,315.99
-City of Willow Springs $ 10,803.54
-Ozark Action       $100,000.00
-Howell County LEA   $468,054.59
-Howell County General Fund $ 13,115.01
-City of West Plains $ 170,908.95

Howell County News

110 W. Main St.,
Willow Springs, MO 65793

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