The Nebraska Department of Economic Development (DED) awarded a portion of the Remote Access Rural Broadband Grant to Vistabeam in August.
Forty million dollars in the CARES Act Federal Funding was committed to this grant program, and applications were due at the end of July. Vistabeam made nine applications and all were awarded. An aggressive work plan was put together to get all of the updates completed over a four-month timeline.
“We have added eight full-time jobs since the grants were applied for and lined up multiple contractors to help us with the construction,” said Matt Larsen, CEO of Vistabeam. “There are supply chain issues that may ultimately slow our progress, but I have been amazed at how much progress our team has made in such a short period of time.”
The counties to benefit from the grant will be Banner, Chase, Cheyenne, Deuel, Garden, Kimball, Perkins, and Scotts Bluff. The upgrades will deliver up to 100Mbps downloads speeds and will work through trees, where before the company relied on line-of-sight to provide a connection.
Vistabeam had existing infrastructure in these counties and had a three year tplan to upgrade these portions of the network. The terms of the grant require the work to be completed by the end of 2020.
“The deadline has been a huge challenge for us, but we have stepped up to add more capacity. Our goal is to make sure that 25/3 is the minimal package that we will make available, and the speeds will go up from there,” Larsen said.
Upgrades to 20 existing sites and three new tower locations are in progress, with some sites already completed.
Each site will be able to deliver up to 100Mbps download speeds to residents and will have several hours of backup battery capacity. In the event of a power outage, there will be multiple ways to get to the Internet on through other towers and fiber connections on the Vistabeam network.
The Broadband program was one of four grants designed and administered by the Nebraska DED this year to support the state’s economic recovery in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.
The broadband grant opportunity was made possible by the federal CARES Act funding, including $1.08 billion of Coronavirus Relief funds allocated to the State of Nebraska and announced by DED last spring. The grants target areas of the state where high-speed internet service is nonexistent or subpar based on the FCC standard of 25/3 Mbps download/upload speeds.