Vance County, N.C., Considers Cost, Benefits of Regional Broadband Study

The county's portion of the study would cost about $30,000.

by Rachael Riley, Henderson Daily Dispatch, N.C. / August 9, 2017

(TNS) -- Although some areas of Vance County have access to high speed internet, officials are moving toward delving into exploring what areas are still lacking.

In 2010, the Federal Communications Commission put together the national broadband plan, and North Carolina’s broadband plan followed in 2014.

“(It) talked about how it can promote economic growth, create jobs and also help transform education,” County Manager Jordan McMillen said.

According to the state plan, the goal is for “every North Carolinian to have affordable access to broadband service—wireline or wireless—if they so choose, by June 2021.”

It mentions how local governments could form partnerships with providers using existing infrastructure or investing in more infrastructure.

Broadband was the focal point at a summit hosted by the Kerr-Tar Regional Council of Governments in April.

Since then, the discussion has returned to board meetings and meetings with county managers.

“The idea would be to do a regional broadband study to inventory the assets that we have in the four counties to determine the broadband availability that we have, and then create a roadmap for the future,” McMillen told Vance County Commissioners on Monday night.

Mighty River, LLC has submitted a proposal to Kerr-Tar to inventory assets, determine broadband availability and create the plan for the region.

“The study would go beyond the federal and state broadband plans by bringing internet service providers to the table … to improve coverage and available speeds,” McMillen said.

Vance County’s portion of the study would cost $30,000.

“I would say we have pretty good coverage in the city area,” McMillen said. “Once you get out into the county, I don’t know that if you know exactly how good it is. So that’s a part of this study.”

Commissioners Tommy Hester Hester wants to see another quote or second opinion in the request for qualifications process.

“I don’t know whether that price of $30,000 is a good price or a bad price,” Hester said. “I’d much rather have at least two prices so that I can make a decision.”

He also questioned each county paying the same amount, because of the different levels of internet service.

“I think as far as internet service is concerned, us compared with the other counties — I don’t know if we’re at a worse or a better place, but I’d like to know where we stand,” Hester said.

According to the state plan, which uses data from the FCC’s 2016 progress report that compiled data ending in December 2014, between .01 percent and .18 percent of Vance County’s population is without broadband access.

Warren County is between .75 to 1 percent, Granville County is .19 to .35 percent and Franklin County is the same as Vance County.

However, gaps of coverage related to bandwidth speeds are substantially higher, according to the state’s study.

“But again it’s very difficult to tell exactly where the lines are,” McMillen said.

About a year ago, Vance County conducted a survey to assess residents’ options of broadband needs in the area and received about 700 responses.

“The challenge is we needed someone to come in and help us interpret that and help us with the next step, which is where this would be,” McMillen said.

Each county would receive equal information from the regional study, he said, but costs after could differ.

The proposed study would take one year, include four counties, and “position each county for future grant funding to assist with implementation.”

Chairman Dan Brummitt agreed with Hester about comparing request for qualifications of which organization would conduct the study, but is also supportive of a regional plan from an educational and business growth perspective.

“I think we definitely need to assess the needs, particularly in our rural communities,” Brummitt said. “And as we look, I think we’ve got pretty good coverage in most of our schools, but that doesn’t take care of the kids who are home trying to do their homework at night.”

Commissioner Leo Kelly, too, supported a regional study.

“I just think that’s the way of the future for small towns like this to survive,” Kelly said.

He, too, supported looking at other providers that could conduct the study and said he is interested in knowing whether Mighty River has dealt with smaller areas.

Commissioner Archie Taylor said he agreed with Brumitt and Hester, and would like to the University of North Carolina and National Association of Counties to provide input, too.

Taylor’s other suggestion is possibly looking into fiber or satellite solutions.

“We know that as we are investing in our technology, that it is (changing) in 10 years,” Taylor said.

©2017 Henderson Daily Dispatch, N.C. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.