North Carolina Counties Work to Identify Broadband Service Gaps

A regional broadband study has been underway in Vance, Granville and Franklin counties, and officials are beginning to see a clearer picture of where residents’ access to Internet is falling short.

by Rachael Riley, Henderson Daily Dispatch / April 17, 2018

(TNS) — In November, Vance County, N.C., Commissioners agreed to enter into an agreement to participate in a regional broadband study with Granville and Franklin counties.

Mighty River LLC was retained though the Kerr Tar Regional Council of Governments as the study’s consultant.

The process of conducting surveys to identify Vance County’s needs is underway, Joe Freddoso, chief operating officer of Mighty River, told commissioners this past week.

“We’ve got a good idea of where there is no service in the county and where there is inadequate service in the county,” Freddoso said, based on resident surveys. “But we’re also now surveying businesses to figure out if there are gaps in their areas between what they need for broadband service, what they need for internet service and what they have today.”

Mighty River is also mapping assets of county- and city-owned buildings and towers, or assets around the counties

Both entities have broadband needs, Freddoso said.

“So we’re looking at how you get broadband to county offices to the school district and other things,” he said.

Once the data gathering is complete, officials will have a better idea of service gaps in the county.

“And then we’ll ask providers to respond to those gaps. Can they improve service? What are their plans for investment, if they’re already here, or are there new players that want to come in and serve your underserved areas or unserved areas of the county,” Freddoso said.

The providers will submit responses that officials will evaluate during an expected September or October time frame.

Mighty River has worked with about 15 to 20 similar rural counties across the country, Freddoso said.

In working with Person County and speaking to downtown merchants in Roxboro, Freddoso said employees at doctor’s offices were getting up at 4 or 5 a.m. to transfer radiological images to Duke.

The employees were unable to transfer images during the day, when networks were too congested, or broadband from providers wasn’t adequate enough.

“The more situations you have like that in a community, it really stunts job growth. It stunts services to citizens, and it becomes very, very difficult for businesses to scale and to attract job growth,” Freddoso said.

With pockets of the county with no service or inadequate service, and service in the core business area not scaling well to needs, Person County received responses from seven service providers.

Person County already had plans to build two towers for public safety in the county’s capital improvement plan, which could be used to hang broadband equipment on, and had an agreement with the state to allow commercial providers to hang wireless equipment on two state towers.

The county offered $250,000 in incentives to a wireless provider to be paid as a reimbursement, once residents signed up for service.

Person County Commissioners decided not to pursue fiber in the home, as one provider wanted $4.5 million in incentives and another requested $19 million.

A construction company offered to build about 50 miles of fiber between the county’s four towers. Person County’s commissioners decided to invest about $3.1 million to own that fiber and later offer access to it to a commercial provider.

The investments, Freddoso said, allow for wireless reach to underserved and unserved areas of the county, fiber connecting county and city offices and enhancing public safety.

Vance County Commissioner Archie Taylor questioned if the county owning fiber is “normal.”

Freddoso said Person County officials decided if it paid $4 million or $19 million in incentives to providers, it risked “not having anything to show” if the provider didn’t perform over time.

The $3 million was spent to attract providers, while the county owns the underlying asset, Freddoso said.

Taylor indicated he’s not sold on the idea.

Though there is the possibility of leasing to providers and gaining revenue from allowing commercial providers to lease equipment, Freddoso said he told Person County commissioners he does not think the return on the investment will recover the full $3 million in capital costs.

“I think you’ve got to do it for the reasons of getting better broadband service out to the public,” Freddoso said.

©2018 Henderson Daily Dispatch, N.C. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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