Commission hears option for broadband

Published 12:41 am Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Rural residents of Covington County could get another option for broadband access, if the commission joins a multi-county effort by Connected Nation.

Connected Nation’s Chip Span addressed commissioners Tuesday. Span said he is working with Walton County, Fla., to help expand their rural broadband, and that means that Covington County could benefit from the expansion.

“Walton County is looking to join forces with some counties,” Spann said. “They want Geneva County, Okaloosa County and Washington County (Fla.) to help them in expanding rural broadband.”

Spann said that rural broadband is more of a necessity these days than it was before.

“We are looking at educational systems implementing technology that needs broadband,” Spann said. “Kids can’t do their homework, people can’t do their work at home, so that is where we want to come in and make a difference.”

Broadband has been a hot topic in Covington County since Andalusia Mayor Earl Johnson said the city would explore the possibility of having its utilities department become a broadband provider.

Commissioner Tony Holmes asked if it would reach everyone in the community.

Spann responded by saying that they are looking at an alternative way of making sure that the entire county gets broadband.

“When the TV companies started changing to HD TV, the federal government seized all of the spectrum of analog TVs,” Spann said. “With that said, there are still several places around the county where we can utilize that white space.”

There are areas of the country where, because of population density, not all television spectrum is utilized. This unused spectrum between TV stations, called white spaces, represents an opportunity for the changing wireless mobile landscape.

This block of spectrum holds potential for expanding broadband capacity, improving access for many users and for developing technologies that can expand this type of spectrum access to other frequencies and services in order to greatly increase our ability to utilize the spectrum, Spann said.

Though this could be a very expensive route, Spann brought up a grant that could help the county.

“The Rural Economic Development Loan and Grant Program is a way to provide funding for these rural projects,” Spann said.

The REDLG is a program within the United States Department of Agriculture that gives zero-interest loans to provide financing to telecommunications borrowers to promote rural economic development and job creation projects.

The county commission decided to stay in contact with Spann so they could hopefully collaborate with Walton County in the future.

Connected Nation is a non-profit organization that plans for the expansion of broadband access, develops and provides the tools, resources, and methods that help states and communities create solutions to their broadband and digital technology gaps.