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Franklin County looks for ways to improve broadband in rural areas

FRANKLIN COUNTY (WSLS 10) - Connectivity in the 21st century is a problem many rural communities like Franklin County face.

Director of Information Technology in Franklin County Steve Thomas said recent studies suggest that only 20 percent of the county has good broadband access.

"People who want broadband call and say they want wireless. Well, we say ‘we don't go there. We aren't there.' It's because of distance. It's very expensive to put fiber in the ground. We have mountains in the way of wireless," Thomas said.

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Despite three major service providers, Thomas said it comes down to a matter of geography. Spanning 722 square, often mountainous miles, the county's terrain poses challenges.

"The things that make it a great place to live and attract people to Franklin County, the mountains, the lakes, the scenery make it very tough for providers, ISP's to bring service here," explained Thomas.

The county is looking into laying down the infrastructure to allow better access for service providers.

Several towers are already in place to help eliminate cost. Chief Operations Analyst of Franklin County Chuck Kirby is working with Thomas to solve the problem.

"We are very passionate about what we do here," Kirby said. "We are trying to improve the lives of our citizens. Broadband is so centrally essential to virtually everything you do in life. This is going to be absolutely crucial in moving the county forward to the 21st century."

Kirby pointed out that broadband is not only essential for plugging into modern-day conveniences like tele-health, home monitoring systems and educational platforms, but it is also crucial for the local economy.

Areas like Snow Creek, Ferrum, Callaway and Boones Mill have some of the most limited access to broadband services. In the past two years, Franklin County and municipalities therein have made significant investments in redevelopment projects like a new industrial park in the county. Both Thomas and Kirby said if you can add broadband services to those areas, the more likely the county will successful in attracting new businesses. That increases jobs, town and county revenue as well as home property values.

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"It used to be that when people were going to come here, the first thing they would say is, "Do you have power?" "Do you have water?" The basics," Thomas said. "Now the very first thing, "Do you have broadband?" It's very difficult to attract businesses if you don't have high-speed internet."

The county is using surveys to help identify problem areas. Thomas and Kirby said that information from the public is crucial to make necessary changes.

"We need the public to help us help them," Kirby said.

To take the survey click here.


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