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County to receive $1.2M in broadband funding

By Meg Dickens
Staff Writer

Johnson County is one of many rural areas without widespread high-speed internet availability. Locals report issues with downloads, streaming, and other related activities. Now the United States government is taking steps to improve broadband in selected areas in 49 states. According to County Mayor Mike Taylor, Johnson County is on this list. The United States Government approved this area, part of Block Group 470190715001, for approximately $1.2 million for expansions.

Reliable and efficient internet service has been more important than ever during the COVID-19 pandemic. Schools briefly went virtual and continue to do so when inclement weather strikes. Working from home has become more common, and public and personal meetings are migrating to Zoom. General surges in online shopping, shipping, and similar orders have post offices around the world overwhelmed. As Women of MC President and Founder Olivia Stelter said when discussing her free wifi project, these days “internet access is a basic need.”

“Access to the internet is access to applying for jobs, college, and scholarships,” Stelter explained in a previous interview. “It goes on and on. There have been several studies about how bringing internet access to rural areas is vital to economic development as a whole.”

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) reached out for bids through the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund Phase 1 auction, which was a reverse auction. Unlike typical auctions, the lowest bid is the winner. Johnson County’s work will be done by Charter, a subsidiary of CCO Holdings, LLC.

Taylor explained that the bid price was only about $1.16 million and the remaining $267,000 goes through the Space Exploration Technologies Corp. (SpaceX) program Starlink, owned by Elon Musk. According to the launch website, “Starlink
can deliver high-speed broadband internet to locations where access has been unreliable or completely unavailable.”

Government officials selected the boost locations through data from a recent public survey. Chosen areas include parts of Sutherland, Neva, Cold Springs, and Doe Mountain. To find out if your area will be affected, visit fcc.gov/reports-research/maps/rdof-phase-i-dec-2020, and input an address. Taylor told the County Commission that he expects to see more funding for broadband come through Governor Bill Lee.