County Broadband Feasibility Study underway

Residents asked to fill out surveys

LOCK HAVEN — Improvements to broadband internet and cell phone services may be coming to local residents over the next several years.

SEDA-Council of Governments (SEDA-COG) and Clinton, Lycoming, Northumberland and Union counties are conducting a broadband survey to assess current broadband internet service and needs. This feasibility study will seek the best path to a comprehensive broadband network in each of the four counties.

Last week, a meeting organized by Clinton County Planning Director Katherine deSilva was held in Lock Haven to get details about the study and what will follow.

The goal of the study is to develop a comprehensive set of strategies to bring high performance broadband and internet services to all residents and businesses, according to Scott Kramer, principal IT specialist of SEDA-COG.

County participation in this survey is extremely important, he said, as it will help support grant applications that can fund improved broadband.

The results will help SEDA-COG and the counties to determine where the need is the greatest and help guide them on how to ensure that all citizens and businesses have affordable and adequate access to broadband services, Kramer said.

Interested residents can fill the survey out online at projects.designnine.com/survey/seda-cog-business-broadband or they can pick up a paper copy and mail to SEDA-COG/ Scott Kramer, 201 Furnace Road, Lewisburg, Pa. 17837.

“We want to see who has broadband and is happy with it, who has no service and anything in between. SEDA-COG has sponsored this. Input is valued,” said de Silva. “These surveys can be found at every post office and library in the county. They are at the Porter Township Community Center, can be found at the Clinton County Piper building, or you can take the online survey. You can take the paper copies with you if your area has no internet service.”

“I understand the irony of asking people to do a broadband survey online, that is why we have issued the paper copies. The more responses, the more we will see that there is definitely a need there,” said Jack Maytum, senior broadband analyst of Design Nine Inc., a company out of Blacksburg, Va., that was founded in 1987 to provide technology advice and services to community, business, and public clients.

All survey responses must be returned by July 29.

“This study is done to provide information to local leadership. All of us here realize a definite need for high speed broadband in rural areas. We put out a competitive RFP (request for proposal) to have Design Nine do this study for us, so we can recognize unserved and underserved areas, and analyze regional broadband needs, and identifying three areas of need in each county for pilot projects,” Kramer added.

De Silva noted that the Renovo area is considered a top priority location for the first project, to provide improved service to Renovo Borough, Bucktail High School and Bucktail Medical Center.

Commissioner Robert “Pete” Smeltz also noted the potential building of a power plant coming to Renovo which will bring “hundreds and hundreds of people that will be working there.”

“Not having towers or fibers on telephone poles … counties know how to do that now… there’s no magic to it,” Maytum said. “We will encompass all of those elements. We are trying to figure out what they have now, and work with the internet providers we have now. We are contacting GIS geographic information people to gather up any work that the counties have already done, and we are well along on that. We will outline on a map and analyze where those existing gaps are, to propose locations where new towers could be built.

“These students in school submit online assignments more and more, those are important considerations. For remote areas, it can be a legitimate safety concern. We can put up more antennas, get more coverage. People want more towers, and it is better for good economic development. Companies know who has broadband and they are going to where the activity is. Broadband access can even increase the property value of a house,” he said.

According to Maytum, about 100 responses have already come in from the four counties, with this survey started about four weeks ago.

“Our feeling is that, over time, every resident and every business will have fiber optic and wireless internet connections,” Maytum continued. “We understand it is a long term project, but do not see any reason this can’t be done. We will analyze what’s available, what we need and see where we can start. Attitude of service providers will change once you do that. Just like electricity and water, everyone should have access to good broadband”

“People will submit the surveys, and the data will be received,” Smeltz said. “Then we will be on to the next step, the next step and the next step.”