Jan. 11 — When the ConnEctor task force study asked local families if they had the internet, one in four said they couldn’t or couldn’t afford it. Over 20% of those who said it was poor quality.
A Midland-based internet provider is hoping to help.
During Tuesday’s Ector County Commissioners’ Court meeting, Mitchell Block, owner of Net Ops Communication, told commissioners his company would like to use some of the $ 32 million in coronavirus relief funds from the Ector County to install high speed fiber optic lines in areas of Ector County that do not have adequate Internet capability.
If commissioners agree, Block said his company would, in return, offer underprivileged families a reduction on their internet bills and on the equipment they need. In some cases, families could receive the internet for free, he said.
Net Ops is targeting not only Ector County, but also Odessa City and Ector County Independent School District to form a “public-private partnership,” Block said.
Outside the city of Odessa, there is a clear shortage of internet service and what exists is not very good, Block said after the meeting. When the pandemic struck, these problems became even more evident, especially in households with children forced to participate in distance learning.
He and his company began to explore options for expanding services to South Odessa, Gardendale, Goldsmith and West Odessa near the start of the pandemic, investing $ 100,000 in studies, designs and engineering, Block said. .
According to their studies, Block told commissioners that there are over 16,000 households they can provide internet service to in these areas, but that does not include potential homes and businesses that will be served in the future in as the region develops.
Improving internet connectivity in these areas would not only allow more students to participate in distance learning, if needed, but also allow people with minor ailments to seek prescriptions or advice from their doctor via telehealth visits and more people to work from home. , including stay-at-home moms, Block said. It would also make businesses more competitive with improved communications and new sales markets, he said.
Internet providers haven’t overstepped city limits due to the expense involved, but with the coronavirus cash on hand, now is the time to do so, Block said.
Her company is ahead of the game because she’s already spent the past two years working on designs and engineering, Block said. Other businesses that have not started will be hampered by supply chain issues and chip shortages, he said.
In addition, Net Ops is working with the Odessa Development Corporation so that they can hire an additional 20 full-time employees to maintain the network, Block said. He will appear before Odessa City Council next week to talk about his business and the possibility of a public-private partnership.
“We are ready to go,” Block said after the meeting.
In other cases, commissioners heard a presentation from Griff Gleason, director of client services for Forensic Medical Management, a Tennessee-based company interested in leasing space locally to perform autopsies for the county.
The county is currently sending remains to Lubbock for autopsies when the person died alone and / or the cause and manner of death is unknown. County Judge Debi Hays said the county spends between $ 400,000 and $ 500,000 a year on private company services.
Gleason said 133 autopsies were performed for Ector County last year and about 400 are performed in the Permian Basin each year. Over 1,000 are played in the region if Abilene and other cities in West Texas are included.
Establishing a forensic center in the area would be very beneficial, especially since there are so few certified forensic pathologists in the United States and there is a possibility that Texas Tech’s Health Sciences Center will launch an educational program, Gleason said.
There are only 500 board-certified forensic pathologists in the United States and a recent research article said there is a need for 1,300 to 1,400, Gleason said.
Hays noted that if the county created a facility, the cost “would come back in the form of a lease,” from Forensic Medical Management.