Walton County searches for broadband accessibility solutions

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WALTON COUNTY, Fla. (WJHG/WECP) - Whether on your phone or a computer, access to the internet is imbedded in our everyday lives, and for years, Walton County officials have been working on ways to better provide this service to residents.

"Thirty years ago no body even knew about it but now it's an essential to the growth of this county economic-wise and for our citizens to be able to access the information that the internet provides," Walton County Commissioner Sara Comander said.

"Most of our residents have either no internet connectivity, no cell phone connectivity or unaffordable connectivity," said Walton County Projects and Programs Manager Rick Wilson.

That's why the broadband committee came up with a WiFi plan. By utilizing libraries and community centers, the idea is to provide free WiFi access to nearly 95 percent of the county.

"This would be a router set up about every 1,000 feet on every elevated pole, buildings or structures that would just repeat that signal so the same WiFi you would have at the library would be the same WiFi you can get outside of your house," said Wilson.

Although this is not to replace internet access in the home, they do hope it gives residents more options.

"Utilizing your library credentials, you could log on and have free internet to again, take tests online, to study, to research, to communicate, to FaceTime, you know with a grandparent or loved one that lives in another country or in a distant place," Wilson added.

It's because of projects like the WiFi plan that Walton County is becoming known as trailblazer in the industry.

"Walton County is actually the leader in the industry when it comes to rural areas and municipalities. No one in an area like what we live in is doing this, whether it be California, the north, the southwest or the east coast. What we are doing is very unique and we've garnered a lot of attention for it. We just want to provide a solution for our residents," Wilson said.

Through partnership among various county agencies, officials are able to collaborate and come up with a unified plan of action.

"We're a model for the state. We get calls all the time from people in Washington D.C wanting to know how we did it. Well, we did it together," Comander said.

"Our goal is to provide the citizens, our students, our residents with connectivity to the internet. Whether that be through something that is provided to their home like fiber to the home, or a WiFi solution. We have to have something that gives our children and residents education, secondary education options to further themselves," said Wilson.

In January, county official plan to release a broadband survey to find out where the county is lacking.