Better Internet for Polk?

Published 10:29 pm Wednesday, January 8, 2020

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County conducting an engineering study for broadband

COLUMBUS—Polk County is taking steps to get better Internet coverage in the area. 

County commissioners met Monday and heard from Lindsey McGaha, a Senior Business Support Specialist, about an engineering study and possible grant. 

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McGaha said the study would be to help the county put broadband in the rural areas. The study will tell the county where broadband could be placed and how much it will cost.

The study is $85,000, but the county is looking into grants to help offset some costs. 

Also on Monday commissioners agreed to apply for a $25,000 grant from Dogwood Trust to help offset some of those costs. 

County officials recently had a meeting with RiverStreet Network. 

Commissioner Ray Gasperson said he was at the meeting and thinks this is a critical step for Polk County. Gasperson said it will take years to get broad coverage but having broadband is no longer a want, it’s an absolute need around the world, especially for people setting up home businesses. 

“You have to have good broadband coverage in order to do that,” said Gasperson. “We have dire issues around Polk County that are underserved at this time.” 

He said the study will show where it is possible to get fiber ran to homes and businesses and in other areas wireless can play a major role. The county can also make towers accessible for the services. 

County manager Marche Pittman said the county has never been able to put a number on what it would take to put broadband in every home. He said the study will focus towards the rural areas and how much it would cost since the county’s towns have Internet access. 

Pittman said the county is trying to find grant money to cover a portion of the cost, but the county is going to have to pay for a good bit of the study. 

Gasperson said even if RiverStreet is the company to do the study the county will own the study and can use it for grant money going forward. 

“This is absolutely vital,” Gasperson said. “We can’t drag our feet on this.”  

Pittman added that once the county has the study, any provider can look at it who would want to work with the county. 

Pittman also said Rutherford County is also looking into the same study, so the possibility is there to do a two-county study. 

He said he plans to come back to commissioners with an exact number for the first meeting in February where commissioners can approve a budget amendment for funding the study. 

Gasperson spoke about RiverStreet, which he said started in Wilkes County and has now spread to other counties and even into Virginia. He said they own the phone company in Saluda as well as a phone company in Buncombe County. 

Commissioner chair Myron Yoder said he thinks as the county gets further along there is a good chance a lot of companies would be interested in investing. 

The grant application is due next week. Once the county signs the agreement for the engineering study, the study will be done within 90 days.