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Monday, September 13, 2021

Officials planning to address lack of ‘accessible, reliable, affordable’ broadband internet in Marion County

The strategic plan for the county’s next five years shows that Marion County officials are planning to assign more resources to improving the lack of “accessible, reliable, and affordable,” broadband internet throughout the county.

According to the Marion County Administrative Strategic Plan of 2022-2026, the recent COVID-19 pandemic “highlighted the weaknesses of broadband infrastructure within Marion County.” Although some citizens have access to a variety of internet services, others have no internet services available at all.

The county says that during the pandemic, the transition for Marion County Public Schools to online learning, the increase in online shopping, and the substantial amount of residents working from home all contributed to broadband becoming an “essential community infrastructure.” 

“Broadband access is also critical for the economic growth of Marion County; as, the lack of broadband connectivity in many areas throughout the county directly impacts economic development in a variety of industries,” reads the plan. The county says that broadband access will attract new businesses, improve existing businesses, create employment in rural areas, and greater connect public safety agencies with officials who respond to “natural disasters.”

The county says that broadband in rural areas presents challenges that are not attractive to private providers. 

In recent weeks, Marion County Commissioners discussed the allotment of tens of millions of dollars that the county will receive from the Biden administration’s American Rescue Plan Act of 2021. Although the county says it will devote tens of millions of dollars to sewer and water utilities, a portion of the funds may be used to analyze and develop a plan for broadband services. 

Part of that analysis will include an evaluation and development of a granular map of county service areas to attain a better understanding of the current status of broadband internet across the county.