Stakeholders and residents from across Santa Rosa County met for the first time this week to discuss the landscape and strategies around providing better internet access as the state plans to distribute money later this year.
“I think it’s important to remember that there are 67 counties in Florida. And they all have their eye on that (money),” said Ed Carson, president of Carson Construction and member of the local technical team.
County Outreach and Community Liaison for Grants and Special Projects Kyle Holley is spearheading the push in Santa Rosa. He has organized the volunteer-based technical team and plans to continue to hold strategy meetings moving forward.
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At the inaugural meeting, he told the News Journal that his main takeaway was that a strategic plan was needed to synchronize internet access with county development.
“One of the things I heard loud and clear from those who participated in the first local technology planning team is a well-thought-out growth management plan associated with infrastructure, beyond roads – (it’s) something that’s needed,” Holley said.
Officials leading local technology teams across Florida first met in March to discuss the funding process of distributing more than $866 million for broadband upgrades and to strategize how to build the teams, which aim to guarantee all Floridians quality Internet access.
Edwin Henry, a homebuilder in the county, said ensuring Santa Rosa has quality internet access comes down to public planning, adding that he thinks the county could also adopt the strategy of creating incentives in designated areas to stimulate growth and more easily prepare for pressure. will have on the broadband infrastructure.
“I think if we had a growth management plan and the county said, ‘We want to encourage growth here, and we want to encourage growth within this circle. Then you try to get everyone to be part of that circle,” Henry said.
Holley also suggested dividing the county into five different “project areas” to focus resources, rather than using a county-wide approach.
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Several members of the public also visited to talk about their internet challenges and to become aware of how it affects their lives.
“So I know money talks, and I’m pretty sure I’ll never get internet service, even though better internet service is all around me. I’m 66. My husband is 75 We’re retired,” said Chumuckla-area resident Lorena Johnson. “I don’t plan on going back to work unless I have to. But I would definitely like to have internet service before I’m 90, if that’s possible.”
Garcon Point resident Sarah Abbott said she had to work with a Panera Bread to use the internet.
“So we work from home. We’re not retired, we run a business from home. And I have two hotspots: an iPad with a hotspot and a cellphone and I use them in rotation because a Zoom call will devour what I have. And most Zoom calls I have to choose to do video or audio,” Abbott said.
Florida is expected to have a statewide strategic plan for broadband completed by June 30 and will work with local technology teams and data from a broadband speed test at the statewide to determine which areas to prioritize.
The Office of Broadband was established in the summer of 2020 under the state Department of Economic Opportunity. It works with local and state government agencies, community organizations, and private businesses to increase the availability and effectiveness of high-speed Internet throughout the state, especially in smaller, rural communities.
The office has rolled out broadband speed tests across Florida to better identify and reach unserved and underserved areas of the state. The resulting map will be an asset to local communities and internet service providers to aid in broadband planning efforts.
Long-term at the local level, Holley said he also wanted to work on creating a five-year plan to alleviate internet-related issues, but stressed he would rely on community input.
“Our administration is okay with that, let’s come up with a plan – a work plan. Something that we can check several times a year, and something that we can immediately start advocating for, from a funding standpoint,” he said. Holley said.