Commission addresses broadband unavailability

Blount County Commission

Internet connection — or, more accurately, the lack thereof — continues to create problems in our community. COVID-19 has only made these problems more prominent.

For families that have very poor, or possibly no internet at all, virtual learning has been a nightmare. This is also true for residents working from home or those living in rural areas.

“Throughout this pandemic, the lack of connectivity has become a bigger issue,” Joe Meads said to the county commission at its last work session. “In many areas of the state, particularly rural areas, broadband is very limited or totally unavailable.”

Meads spoke on behalf of Sain Associates, an engineering consulting firm, regarding broadband internet in Blount County. On both the national and state level, monies are available for counties and municipalities to use toward better broadband infrastructure; however, to apply these entities must be able to show areas of connectivity, areas where there is no connectivity, and areas where there is inadequate connectivity.

“I think all of us in this room understand the importance of the issue, commission chairman Chris Green said. “But right now, we don’t have anything to go talk to ADECA or our congressman about because we don’t have a study or a plan in place. We’ve got to know where to start.”

Oneonta Mayor Richard Phillips agreed, “We’ve got to get it here and we’ve got to do it ourselves. Whatever we have to do to get it here, we will do it.”

Meads explained how Sain Associates could help the county with both a study and a plan. They have worked with Elmore and Chilton counties and they proposed a similar strategy for Blount County.

The company proposed conducting a broadband feasibility study to evaluate existing broadband infrastructure and coverage areas. Next, they would work with county officials to develop a framework for planning and funding projects that address those gaps.

According to Meads, the study would define broadband coverage goals, document existing broadband infrastructure and coverage, develop a plan to address the gaps in broadband service, develop recommendations, and compile the information needed to apply for grants and other funding.

During last week’s commission meeting, the commission voted to request a quote from Sain Associates for conducting a broadband feasibility study for Blount County. The commission will continue discussion of broadband in a special called meeting at 9 a.m. tomorrow. They will also discuss the legal expenditures for the county’s American Rescue Plan Act funds as well as discuss Rebuild Alabama billing and reimbursement procedures.