$23.6 Million Dollar Stimulus Grant Awarded To Eight Panhandle Counties

By: Vanessa Nguyen Email
By: Vanessa Nguyen Email

Bristol-Eight Panhandle counties will soon benefit from a multi-million dollar federal grant to build a broadband network.
They, along with six South Central Florida counties, are all benefit ting from the Florida Rural Broadband Alliance.
Project officials say it will revolutionize the day-to-day operations for business owners and residents in these rural counties.

Most people take high-speed internet access for granted.
But most of the Central Panhandle is still living in the 20th century.
That's about to change.
"We can't measure it now, we're going to look back 10 years from now and talk about when we got broadband," says Jackson County Development Council's Executive Director Bill Stanton.
Friday afternoon, members of the Florida Rural Broadband Alliance celebrated the news they've received a $23.6 million dollar stimulus grant to build a broadband network.
"What it's going to do for them is give them a high-speed, dependable internet access at a level that is far beyond even what we've had in the past."
Liberty, Franklin, Gadsden, Holmes, Washington, Calhoun, Jackson and Gulf are joining six South Central Florida counties as the alliance's two Rural Areas of Critical Economic Concern.
The two regions represent almost 20% of Florida's total land mass, but less than 40% has broadband access.
"It's going to take me a long time to get the grin off my face, it's a good day for our eight counties."
Opportunity Florida's Executive Director Rick Marcum says it's been his mission the past seven years to make this happen.
"Because it's not a luxury, it's a threshold, we were never going to go anywhere until we got that."
Officials equate the significance of this project to the early electric co-ops that brought electricity to rural areas in the last century.
Businesses, schools, hospitals and health care services will all benefit from the new broadband access.
"You can have an X-ray taken by a physician at Calhoun-Liberty Hospital, you can put that X-ray in the broadband system and have a specialist, radiologist anywhere in the world to be able to read that and hand you the results back in a matter of minutes," says FRBA Chairman Johnny Eubanks.
Broadband access will also allow these rural counties to compete with larger cities.
"If you don't have it, you're let out in the cold when it comes to economic development," says Congressman Allen Boyd.
"On a personal level, this grant makes it possible for our children and their children to not be forced to move away but remain here."
The Florida Rural Broadband Alliance will operate as the 'middle-mile', linking large scale service providers with local ones.

The Alliance hopes to have the entire broadband network completed in two-and-a-half years.


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