Commissioners express support for rural broadband effort

Washington County Commissioners on Thursday signed off on a letter of support for the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) rural broadband experiments.

About $230 million in the Connect America Fund will be given out across the country to bring broadband services to rural areas through various experimentation. The fund’s money is left over from telephone companies’ projects to bring broadband to areas across the country.

Commissioner Tim Irvine said various organizations across the country can apply and that only 12 to 15 grantees will be determined, so the process is competitive.

In fact, letters of interest and support are due to the FCC by no later than today. The decision making process can take up to the end of 2014.

Stu Johnson, executive director of Connect Ohio, a group dedicated to bringing reliable and affordable access to broadband, said this is an exciting time in broadband discussion.

“It’s a change in the whole discussion,” he said, adding that the experiments are just that: any and all ideas are welcome for setting up broadband services in rural areas.

“Hopefully we find a model that works,” Johnson said, adding that if an idea works, it could be replicated elsewhere. “We’ll see which ones work and which ones don’t.”

Horizon Telcom has decided Washington County is one of nine counties it’s interested in looking at for the experiment phase. Horizon already has broadband services in portions of the county. The letter of support the commissioners signed off on will go in with Horizon’s FCC application.

Irvine said Horizon isn’t interested at this time in being “the last mile” that is connecting homes and businesses.

“It won’t include residentials and businesses,” Irvine said. He said instead, the focus will be on bringing broadband to county schools, libraries and hospitals.

Irvine said there is one benefit to starting with those main three and that once the structure for broadband is set up, other providers could use it to reach many more people.

“Once the backbone is installed, it can be used by last mile providers (through) smart networks,” Irvine added.

He said the letter was just to show the FCC that there was support for the program in Washington County.

“It’s just a letter of support,” Irvine said, adding that it’s uncertain how things will pan out.

Johnson said every letter of support helps.

“We try to attach as many letters of support as we can,” he said. “It says the community embraces broadband and there is a need for it. It carries a lot of weight.”

In other business, commissioners approved requests from Washington County Engineer Roger Wright to purchase three trucks for the county garage.

A used 2011 Ford truck will be used as the foreman’s truck. The cost is $22,500. The purchase of a used 2005 Peterbilt Model 378 semi truck will be bid on in the coming weeks. A new 2015 Ford F350 will be purchased for a total cost of $48,181, which is lower than the state contract of $50,857.