Walton County, Fla. Inks $1.5 Million Broadband Deal

The agreement with Information Transport Solutions will provide fiber to all school, county, and private business buildings in the county.

by Tom McLaughlin, Northwest Florida Daily News, Fort Walton Beach / October 15, 2015

(TNS) --This was a deal too good for the Walton County Commission to pass up.

Commissioners jumped at the chance Tuesday to vote in support of shelling out a maximum of $1.5 million to secure the countywide installation of $25 million to 30 million worth of fiber-optic cable.

Inking the deal with Information Transport Solutions will allow the county to install high speed Internet service “at every county office building within a year’s time,” County Commissioner Sara Comander said.

That’s 50 buildings in all, and includes schools, college facilities, libraries, county buildings and emergency service structures, said Rick Wilson, the county’s projects and programs manager.

“I can’t tell you how excited I am about this project,” Comander said. “It is life changing for the citizens of our county.”

The savings will be realized because the federal government wants learning institutions hooked into fiber optic, Wilson explained to the board before its Tuesday vote to approve the project.

“The FCC has made a one time finding to let libraries and schools use E-Rate funding to get fiber in the ground,” Wilson said.

The E-Rate program referenced kicked off in December of 2014.

Efforts to improve the county’s poor broadband capacity were undertaken last year when a committee was formed that included Wilson and Walton County employees representing the Sheriff’s Office, Clerk of Court’s Office and school district.

Committee members found not only the E-Rate program, but ITS as well, a south Alabama company bent on expanding its fiber-optic reach into northwest Florida and involved in a local project installing fiber optics for local military installations and at Verizon communication towers.

“We’ve been trying to get into the Panhandle for a good six to seven years,” said ITS spokesman Barry Franklin. “This is a natural fit for us.”

The Walton Commission was unanimous Tuesday in committing to two annual payments of $750,000 to cover the cost of initial installation. The work will be done this year.

County officials envision private Internet providers latching onto the fiber-optic cable laid down by ITS and making high-speed Internet available to even the most rural residential locations.

It appears the collaboration between the various county agencies, which also includes cooperation from Walton’s two municipalities, is unique.

“This kind of collaboration has not been done anywhere else in the country,” Wilson said.

©2015 the Northwest Florida Daily News (Fort Walton Beach, Fla.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.