Officials discuss broadband servicePublished 1:51pm Tuesday, July 22, 2014
By Matt Wilson
For the FCT
Franklin County officials began the process of bringing high-speed internet to citizens who live in rural areas of the county during a meeting at the Franklin County Extension Office July 16.
Members of the community, including representatives of the Cattleman’s Association and the Franklin County School System, were present to voice their concerns and ideas regarding the formation of a Broadband Taskforce.
The taskforce would become part of the Franklin County Water Authority if approved by voters during the November election.
County Extension Coordinator Katernia Cole said the public needs to be educated on this bill that will be on the ballot so that voters can make an informed decision in November.
“When this bill comes up for a vote in November, people need to be informed of what it is all about so that we can get it passed,” Cole said.
“A lot of times if people don’t know about a bill or what it is exactly, they are more likely to vote against it. I just pray that we can get it passed this time through.”
The Importance of Broadband Bill (HB 600) was introduced by Rep. Johnny Mack Morrow in March of this year. The bill would expand the services of the Franklin County Water Coordinating and Fire Prevention Authority to include sewage and broadband services.
Frank Hoehn, Franklin County’s technical project manager, said that by including the broadband taskforce in with the existing Water Authority, they can be closer to reaching their goal sooner.
“If we would have had to create a separate entity and then move on from there, we would just be further behind,” Hoehn said.
Cole echoed the same sentiment.
“Many of our residents in the rural parts of the county are doing without internet or with internet that is not up-to-date,” Cole said. “We need the voters to pass this thing so we can start solving the problem.”
Hoehn said that once the broadband taskforce is established as part of the Water Authority, it could become a separate entity in the future.
“If in a few years—five or ten—we want to go back and separate this taskforce from the Water Authority, then that is something we can discuss then,” Hoehn said.
Dr. Susan Hargett with the Franklin County School System said some of the schools in the area are able to provide students with technology to help with curriculum and studies, but some students have no use for them once they leave school.
“We are able to provide students at our schools with iPads and computers, but they just have to leave them at school when they leave each day because they have no use for them at home without reliable internet service,” Hargett said.
“A vote for this bill in November would really be a vote for the future. The students and the kids—our future—we need to pass this for them.”
Members of the committee discussed the next step of securing funds for the project if it indeed does get passed in November.
“We need to start getting some people to start putting their name to paper and see who is really interested in getting this project going,” Hoehn said.
“We need to start getting vendors to put their name on paper if they want to participate in getting broadband internet service out to rural areas.”
Hargett said there is grant money out there in order to pull the public and private interests together, but the bill would need to pass in November in order for the Broadband Taskforce to qualify for those grants.
Hoehn said he would like to see some of the interested service providers draw up a plan for build-out so.
“We need the project to be “shovel ready” so if the bill passes in November we can be in line for the grant money,” Hoehn said.
If the bill doesn’t pass in November, Hoehn said there “would be other ways to fund it” but they would have to go through the process again and that “would put the county that much further behind.”
Cole said passing the bill and expanding the Water Authority services to include broadband Internet “won’t cost those who already have it and it won’t affect those who already have it.”
“It won’t hurt the service or cost anyone who has broadband now and it could perhaps increase the quality of your service or your options,” Cole said.
“Passing this would really help those in the rural areas that need better access to high-speed Internet.”