KITTANNING – Less than 10 years after Armstrong County’s multi-million dollar emergency communications network was built, county officials are seeking millions more to build a new network within the next two years.
The announcement came at last week’s meeting of the Armstrong County Board of Commissioners, who said an ongoing dispute has finally come to a head with the company that currently owns the infrastructure the county uses for its emergency communications network.
Freeport-based Salsgiver Internet and Telecommunications Services constructed the current system in 2010, including a network of 183 miles of fiber optic lines that connect 14 radio communications towers and 11 county buildings and offices throughout the county.
“The main priority of Armstrong County is, and always will be, to preserve the public safety infrastructure and maintain the integrity of the county emergency operating system,” commissioners Pat Fabian, Jason Renshaw and George Skamai said in a prepared statement at their Sept. 6 meeting. “Over the last few years, the county and its current vendor of telecommunications services have fundamentally disagreed on various issues. Specifically, the contract between the county and this vendor, as written, was financially disadvantageous to the county.”
The commissioners said that a few months ago, the county received a “termination of services” notice from Salsgiver.
“Thereafter, the vendor filed for bankruptcy,” the commissioners said.
Last week, the commissioners entered into an agreement with DQE Communications LLC for telecommunications services.
“DQE is an established entity with an excellent reputation in the industry,” the commissioners said. “The partnership with DQE will allow other suppliers to connect to the network, providing choice and competition for county residents.”
The commissioners said the new network is estimated to cost $3.6 million, and that the county would seek grants from the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency and other funding sources to help pay for the project.
After the meeting, the commissioners said the action was the result of a long, ongoing dispute with the vendor, later identified as Salsgiver.
“It’s been a long time coming for this,” Skamai said.
“We’ve had spree disagreements on the financial issues of the agreement,” Renshaw added, noting that there was a lot of ambiguity in the county’s contract with Salsgiver.
Renshaw said the company kept adding fees for the county, and had made several threats to shut down the county’s 911 system.
“It was almost like a ransom,” he said.
With DQE, Renshaw explained, residents and businesses in the county will be able to benefit from the high speed Internet and television services the new system can offer — benefits and promises that Salsgiver was never able to fulfill.
“His business plan ultimately failed,” Fabian said, adding that the original contract with Salsgiver provided the county with 5 percent of any revenue the company made off of building out the system to residents and businesses. But nothing materialized.
With the current network, the county owns 12 fiber optic lines in a bundle of approximately 100 lines that stretch around the county. The county officials said it was impossible to separate those county-owned lines from the rest of the system that Salsgiver owns.
They said the current contract with Salsgiver runs until 2020, and that the county system will be secure. The contract length also gives the county time to have the new network in place before the old contract expires.
“Everything is fine, the system is running,” Skamai assured residents.
He also said the county will be making claims related to Salsgiver’s bankruptcy and the money that the county was supposed to have received from the company over the years.