High speed at snail’s pace

Published 7:59 am Thursday, November 1, 2012

JACKSON – Bringing high speed Internet to the whole of Northampton County will be a process that could take years.

Last week, that notion was realized by county officials and representatives during an Internet discussion with North Carolina Department of Commerce Broadband Initiative and CenturyLink representatives.

Donna Sullivan, with the Department of Commerce Broadband Initiative, spoke about different programs within the new division, which is charged with carrying out the work of the state Broadband Data and Development grant received by the National Telecommunication and Information Administration (NTIA).

“(Broadband) is the infrastructure that is essential to communities to thrive in today’s global economy; it’s vital to the economic recovery and sustainable growth,” she said. “Broadband allows entrepreneurs, small businesses, large corporations—it gives them the tools that are necessary to compete in local, state and national markets. It also allows citizens affordable, efficient access to basic amenities to education, healthcare, public safety and other government services.”

The State Broadband Initiative focuses on:

State Capacity Building-where the division works to build an understanding at the state and regional level about broadband availability as well as the benefits of broadband and the overall awareness, use and adoption and deployment of the technology.

Tech Assistance-the division is a technical resource for state and regional organizations questioning concerns about broadband availability, adoption and use. They also partner with providers to achieve common goals and track large broadband projects going on in the state.

On-site Citizen Surveys-to evaluate the change in broadband adoption and use. The division also tracks state policies to work with partners to encourage broadband goals. Sullivan said the State Broadband Division also participates in national broadband forums.

Sullivan said, as part of the grant, the division is required to collect and submit data of the availability of broadband to the NTIA every six months.

“This information is then uploaded into the National Broadband Map by the NTIA in partnership with the FCC,” she said. “The FCC determines where they will put funding for broadband based on the underserved areas on this map.”

Sullivan said the way the State Broadband Initiative collects data, which is mandated by the NTIA, is by census block level.

“That means if one household in that census block can receive broadband services, the entire census block is considered covered—even though there very well may be households who cannot receive broadband to that location,” she said.

Sullivan said citizens are key to helping to refine the data further.

“To make this data more granular, we have a program called the Citizens Request Registry where we go out and let citizens self-certify that they cannot get service to their location,” she said.

Sullivan said she was leaving forms in the county and the same data can be collected online.

Currently, approximately 1,921 households in Northampton County cannot get what the federal government perceives basic level broadband service.

Sullivan also spoke about MCNC broadband project currently being worked on in the area. She said MCNC will provide service to public entities such as local governments, schools, colleges and universities. The project is slated to be completed by December 2012.

Derek Kelly with CenturyLink said the company is working to expand broadband services in Northampton County referring to expansion the company is doing in the western end of the county.

He said one of the largest costs for the company is laying down fiber network.

He noted the FCC did a study which resulted in three factors being identified as to why people may not have broadband even if it is available, including cost, lack of digital literacy and relevance in life.

Kelly noted a low cost Internet plan through the Lifeline Program with CenturyLink for those low-income families and individuals as well as a low cost network computer that will allow users to utilize email and do Internet research.

Kelly said 94 percent of families with students in the county qualify for the Lifeline program. He added it was one of the highest numbers he had seen.

He added CenturyLink does offer some basic Internet training and could partner with local agencies like the Department of Social Services to bring those classes to citizens.

After taking questions from officials with the county, towns and the Northampton County Chamber of Commerce, County Manager Wayne Jenkins noted likened the topic of broadband to the county’s water system and how it would take years to get the county completely serviced.

“It’s not something that will happen overnight,” he said.

State Rep. Michael Wray, who was only able to stay for a short time due to another commitment, thanked the Department of Commerce and Century Link for coming to the table to discuss the topic with local officials.

“We have a lot of (Internet) problems in Northampton County, around the lake area I have a lot of complaints about availability and in the rural parts,” he said. “It’s very important because everybody needs (Internet) availability, especially with our youth with today’s technology.”