As Warren County seeks proposals and funding options for expanding broadband here, local residents must serve as advocates emphasizing the need to improve internet service in their communities and other rural areas.
That was the message from Joe Freddoso of Mighty River LLC, a broadband technology advisement company based in Wake Forest, who facilitated a Sept. 10 community meeting to gather input about local internet frustrations and needs.
Freddoso appeared before the Warren County Board of Commissioners in July at the request of County Manager Vincent Jones to discuss how grants and partnerships could bring about broadband expansion here in a more cost effective and timely manner than what was outlined in a 2017 RiverStreet Networks broadband feasibility study. Options described in the study carried estimated costs in the millions of dollars and projections of taking up to 15 years to complete.
Jones previously told the newspaper that he approached Freddoso because county commissioners wanted to explore options for making broadband internet accessible throughout the county. However, the costs for plans suggested by the 2017 feasibility study, which ranged between $8 million and $38 million, meant that the project was not realistic for the county at the time.
Jones said that in order to find a way to help the broadband project move forward, he sought information from the Kerr-Tar Regional Council of Governments about its efforts to expand broadband access in Franklin, Granville and Vance counties with Freddoso providing advising services.
Jones added that he contacted Freddoso about how Warren County could piggyback on the Kerr-Tar project or find a more cost-effective means to expand broadband internet access here. He said that Freddoso’s partnership with an outside foundation would cover expanses related to Mighty River LLC’s advisement services to Warren County, making the company an attractive option for commissioners to consider.
A critical need
Representatives from RiverStreet Networks were among those attending last week’s meeting as residents from across the county packed the county commissioners’ meeting room at the Warren County Armory Civic Center.
County Commission Chairman Tare “T” Davis said that expanding broadband has been a topic of consideration for county and community leaders for the past few years. He described broadband as being just as vital in today’s society as water.
Freddoso agreed, adding, however, that rural areas may find themselves without access to the internet resources that people in cities take for granted.
“There is no mandate across the country to provide broadband to rural areas. It is not regulated like electricity,” Freddoso said.
He said that Mighty River, LLC could assist local residents by connecting county officials with broadband providers willing to develop a plan for extending the service to as many people as possible. Freddoso said that Warren County has advantages that will make the area attractive to a potential provider: an existing broadband network serving Warren County Schools, allowing for the possibility that the service provider could lease unused portions of the fiberoptic network to serve as the backbone of a county system; and the RiverStreet Networks feasibility study.
He added that resources such as water towers and communications towers in the area could be assets in developing a wireless network, suggesting that a combination of fiberoptics and wireless services would likely be the best solution to bring broadband to more areas of Warren County.
A frustrating reality
Freddoso told those attending last week’s meeting that having information about the internet problems they experience would be a critical tool as he prepares a statement of need that would be included with a request for proposal for potential broadband providers.
He added that broadband access has become crucial in everyday life in a number of areas: enabling students to access online information from their homes, eliminating what has become known as “the homework gap”; enabling adults to work from home; providing access to healthcare, allowing patients who live far from doctor’s offices to interact with physicians without leaving their homes; and boosting economic development by making the area more attractive to business and industry, and leading to potential business expansion.
Many of those who attended the meeting hailed from the Lake Gaston area and described slow download/upload speeds and the inability to effectively communicate with business clients.
Becky Hoban of River Bend Pointe, moved to the lake from Raleigh. She said that she loves living in Warren County, but must utilize satellite internet service. Hoban added that she hopes that her children will be able to move to the local area, but they cannot right now because of slow internet service which would prevent them from being able to work from homes at Lake Gaston.
“If we had broadband, I think they would move here,” she said.
Mike Nagorsky of Hillside Drive moved to Warren County from Pittsburgh, Pa., and also had to resort to using satellite internet service. He telecommutes, but with current internet capabilities in his area, cannot carry on the online functions, including communications, that are essential for his work.
“I may have to sell my dream house because I can’t do my work from home,” Nagorsky said.
Nocarva Road residents reported having to travel to a cellphone company hot spot to be able to work.
Nela Horton of River Bend subdivision, a representative of a volunteer committee of community residents trying to obtain internet access for the area, presented Freddoso with a petition of 250 signatures of people who want broadband service. She described the frustration of not being able to work from home due to slow internet, adding that reliable internet service is important not only for full-time lake residents who own their homes, but also for people renting homes for a portion of the year.
Slow or nonexistent internet has posed a problem for other areas of Warren County as well. Dr. Cosmos George of the Axtell community, who serves as president of the local branch of the NAACP, highlighted the organization’s concerns that many of the county’s students cannot do their homework at home without broadband service. He added that he mentors area students, but cannot help them as much as he needs to due to problems logging on to the internet.
Loree Harris of Limertown Road south of Warrenton said that she originally had to obtain satellite internet service, but since then has been able to go with wireless service. However, she said that her son, who lives at the bottom of Limertown Road, cannot work from his home due to slow internet speed.
Harris said that many Warren County residents face the same problem if they are on the outskirts of or live outside of areas covered by existing networks.
Limertown Road resident Tanisha Powell Reed said that fiberoptic cables run down a nearby road, but don’t make the turn toward her house. She said that for her high school-age children who take college courses online and another who depends on online high school courses, reliable internet access is critical. However, Reed said that her service is not reliable and that accessing hot spots often means sitting outside with her car running.
Is a realistic solution possible?
Warrenton resident Robert Davie asked Freddoso whether it would be financially realistic to plan to provide broadband service to every corner of Warren County, including people who live in the last houses on roads in sparsely populated areas.
“In the areas of the county where there is less (population) density, what is the plan?” he asked.
Davis is Warrenton’s town administrator and was Warren County manager when the RiverStreet Networks feasibility study was conducted.
Freddoso admitted that there could be some areas that could not be reached due to expenses. He said that such areas will be noted in the request for proposal, and that grant funding and incentives could help address the problem.
Davis said that the county commissioners must consider the best use of taxpayers’ money to provide the best service to local residents.
Freddoso said that the request for proposal should seek cost estimates on providing broadband across the entire county with the idea that communities could be added to coverage areas as funding becomes available.
Lake Gaston resident Carolyn Ross-Holmes said that local residents must be willing to provide funding in the form of tax dollars in order to make broadband expansion possible.
“Be ready when the (county) commissioners come to us and say this is how much it will cost, and this is what we will do,” she said.
Greg Coltrain, vice president of business development with RiverStreet Networks, emphasized the need for Warren County residents to be advocates addressing the need for broadband in local communities and suggested contacting elected officials beyond the local level.
Freddoso said that avenues, such as the petitions signed by lake area residents, would be valuable tools to add to the request for proposal as part of efforts to ensure that as many local residents as possible are able to obtain broadband access. He remains optimistic that a solution can be found to expand broadband access here.
“We have to keep the areas we cannot serve very few,” Freddoso said.