Polk commissioners starting a committee, survey for broadband service

Published 10:01 pm Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Polk County residents have complained about little or no Internet service in outlying areas of the county and the Polk County Board of Commissioners may soon be providing an answer to some of their problems.

Commissioners met Monday, Oct. 17 and heard from Keith Conover, technical assistance director for the western region of the N.C. Department of Commerce, who said part of his job is to get broadband in rural areas.

Conover said there are a lot of options available and all the service is provided through the state at no cost to the county.

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Commissioners came to a consensus to direct county manager Marche Pittman to create a committee and move forward with a survey.

Pittman explained that the county contacted Conover after seeing articles in the Tryon Daily Bulletin about the lack of broadband and lack of quality of Internet service in some areas.

Pittman said he contacted the department of commerce to give residents more choices potentially in terms of broadband service.

Conover said a committee will be established and then a survey will be available to residents. He will then hold a provider meeting with all the broadband providers in the area and provide a map of service in the county. The map will show vertical assets in the county for providers, whether they be existing towers, fire towers or schools. Conover also said one asset for broadband could be on top of someone’s house at a higher elevation with a good view shed, and other residents within 12 miles.

Conover also said there is infrastructure already in place in Polk County that is no longer being used and some of the discussions could be to ask providers how much is will cost to reconnect that service.

Commissioner Ted Owens asked if these discussions could help people in outlying areas, such as those who may live in the mountains. Conover said those outlying areas may benefit from a wireless service, which is available.

Owens also asked Pittman if he is still on the Pangaea board and asked why they would not be interested in sponsoring this. PANGAEA is a non-profit internet service provider serving major arteries in Polk and Rutherford counties for commercial and government customers.

Pittman said he is on the board and what the providers are going to see is data and all providers will have the data for the ability to build out to those locations.

“It’s not just helpful to Pangaea, it’s helpful to all providers,” Pittman said.

Conover said what a provider such as Pangaea does with the information and data is up to them.

Over the summer, Mill Spring resident Jarvis Garrett posted a petition on change.org to bring Charter Internet to eastern Polk County. The petition outlined complaints of Windstream customers. The petition said Windstream is the only Internet and phone service option for Mill Spring, and that provider “has given us unreliable and substandard service with both phone and Internet service.”

Windstream is the only Internet service available to many residents of Polk County and complaints regarding the Internet service particularly are often discussed on social media locally.

A representative with Windstream responded to a Bulletin article this summer that people who live in rural areas do not typically receive the best coverage because of their distance to the nearest node, which are collection points for broadband delivery to customers.

“Everybody sees a gap,” Pittman said. “Everybody knows there’s a gap. The question is what do we do, how do we go forward with it?”

Commissioners plan to discuss the help being offered from the N.C. Department of Commerce at future meetings. A committee will likely be set up soon and a survey will likely be handled by the next board of commissioners, following three new members being sworn into office in December after the Nov. 8 election.