Limited internet access causes problems for Franklin County students at home

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FRANKLIN COUNTY (WSLS 10) - Franklin County continues to work to provide broadband internet access to rural parts of the county.

Children studying in the classroom at Snow Creek Elementary School.
Children studying in the classroom at Snow Creek Elementary School.

According to recent studies, it's estimated that only 20 percent of Franklin County has good broadband access.

That lack of access is causing issues for students, especially in the Snow Creek community.

Because of a fiber network laid at Snow Creek Elementary School, internet access is available in the classroom.

The problem begins when students step off property.

While the classroom capability is there, for many students, technology-based learning stops as soon as they leave the building.

Principal Ken Grindstaff said teaching there means understanding that homework cannot involve internet.

"The problem exists when they go home. If they do have internet, it's not very reliable,” Grindstaff said. "It's discouraging for them."

Broadband isn't accessible in this part of the county, making downloading nearly impossible.

"That's just for the ones that do have internet. The ones that don't have it, all of those possibilities are not open to them at all,” Grindstaff said.

He said that also makes communicating with parents and receiving electronic report cards a challenge.

Chuck Kirby, Chief Operations Analyst for Franklin County, is working on the project. He said the lack of internet access is detrimental to students.

"These students can't do remedial work, self-driven work or exploratory work outside of the class that will augment and strengthen what's going on in the classroom,” Kirby said.

But, those kids will one day go to Franklin County High School, along with other kids who do have broadband access, leaving them at a disadvantage.

It's the mountainous terrain in Snow Creek that's blocking broadband. Leland Mitchell, who is on the Franklin County Board of Supervisors, represents that district says it’s a frustration for many residents. He’s been working on the issue since 2004. He was there when one of the first towers were installed in the county.

"Last week, someone cut some trees and got access to broadband and they were thrilled,” Mitchell said.

But county leaders like Mitchell know that cutting trees won't solve the larger broadband problem.

As part of a study, they're surveying residents to learn where it's most needed.

Steve Thomas, the county's director of information technology, is a working with Kirby on the issue. He said to date, 22,000 surveys have been mailed out to residents asking about the quality of service they receive. He said 7,000 of those mailers were sent home through the school system. He says those surveys are crucial in understanding where the problem lies and how best to fix it. So far, Thomas said they’ve received an overwhelming response from the public.

"They are excited about it. Some people have even offered to bring them in by hand because they want us to go ahead and have them. At the end of every conversation I have, it ends with ‘I hope this comes true’ That's a good thing,” Thomas said.

The deadline to take the electronic version of the broadband assessment survey is at the end of February. Thomas says the paper version will be accepted after that date via mail or in-person deliveries.

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