McDowell County working with Internet provider to expand broadband [The McDowell News, Marion, N.C.]
(McDowell News (Marion, NC) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) Feb. 14--The McDowell County Commissioners took an important step Monday evening to expand broadband Internet service for parts of McDowell that currently don't have it.
At Monday's regular meeting, the commissioners agreed to lease some space on the county's communications tower on Grant's Mountain to a new wireless Internet provider Skyrunner of Asheville. Founded in 1997, Skyrunner provides wireless broadband service to eight counties in western North Carolina.
The company will get six months of free space at the beginning. Then, the company will get the space on the tower for a rate of $100 a month for a year. This will be followed with $200 a month for the second year, $300 a month for the third year and $400 a month for the fourth year.
In addition, the commissioners said county staff could negotiate with local fire departments about the use of the tower and possibly find a way to lower that rate even more for Skyrunner.
Through this arrangement, local officials are hoping that more folks and businesses in McDowell will get broadband Internet.
"Providing high-speed Internet is important for small business development as well as the educational process," said County Manager Chuck Abernathy in a memo. "The state says that 14 percent of the county households are unserved. This translates into 2,505 households."
Since 2008, the McDowell Chamber of Commerce's broadband Internet committee has worked on this problem. Chamber Executive Director Rod Birdsong attended Monday's meeting and made a presentation about the need for more service in McDowell.
"This is a real breakthrough," said Birdsong on Wednesday. "There are businesses and residents in the county that will never get high-speed through the traditional fiber optic in the ground approach."
He added a survey conducted by the chamber indicated the Glenwood and Montford Cove communities were the prime places to start with this project.
The N.C. Department of Commerce and the Isothermal Planning and Development Commission have been involved in this effort as well. Keith Buchanan of APlusNetworking.com has provided his expertise through the process.
Abernathy said he was informed by the state that the number of Internet companies willing to take on a need like this is very limited.
State Department of Commerce officials estimate Skyrunner would serve 1,008 of the currently unserved households.
"This would provide high speed Internet to 67 percent of those households with no or limited service," said Abernathy in a memo. "The company would also make the service available in areas already served."
The additional Internet service will also help small business development and local students as the school system moves to the One-to-One initiative.
Commission Chairman David Walker said Skyrunner will also provide more competition to the other Internet providers already here.
"We're excited about that," he said.
In other business, the commissioners held a public hearing about an incentive package for a new industry that could locate at the Universal site.
The unnamed company would hire 52 people over three years and pay wages that exceed the current county average. The county is hoping to get a $156,000 grant from the state's One NC program. If approved, the grant requires a local match equal to the amount approved by the state.
The commissioners have already talked about this project in closed session. Abernathy, who is also the county's economic development director, said he could not name the company or specify what kind of business it is.
The incentive offered by the county would involve two years of free lease space in the Universal building involving approximately 40,000 square feet. McDowell County will also apply for additional funding with the N.C. Rural Center Building Reuse Program.
County officials held the required hearing Monday evening and no comments were heard from the public. The board approved the incentive for this industry.
Walker told The McDowell News on Tuesday that the governor's office will hopefully make an announcement about this industry within a week or so.
In other business, the McDowell County Commission:
--Approved the advertisement of the tax liens for all unpaid 2012 real property bills. The tax liens will be published in The McDowell News at a cost of $4,384. The tax liens will appear in the newspaper on May 8.
--Heard about various grants and programs that could become available. EMS Director William Kehler is seeking a $279,733 grant from the Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust for the implementation of a community care paramedic program. Cooperative Extension Director Molly Sandfoss is seeking to start Project EMMA (Eat Better, Move More, Age Well). Aimed at the senior citizen population, its main goals are improving access to and increasing consumption of fresh local foods and increasing physical activity and overall mental well-being through regular exercise classes and alternative therapy. Grace Baptist Church is seeking the county's support for a KaBOOM grant application that could lead to the building of a community park on church property on Shady Lane. In addition, the Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust is offering a grant of up to $150,000 that could be used to improve recreation facilities in Old Fort. The board agreed to endorse all of these efforts.
--Heard a presentation from MTCC President Bryan Wilson about a fund-raising effort that the McDowell Technical Community College Foundation Board may undertake. The fund-raiser would support the training center project at the Universal site. The board agreed to endorse this fund-raising.
--Heard an update on the middle school project. The Board of Education received four bids for the McDowell High addition work. The low bid was submitted by Beam Construction in the amount of $9.1 million. The Board of Education approved this low bid, contingent on approval from the state's Local Government Commission and approval of the funding. A public hearing about the funding for this project will be held Feb. 28.
--Heard an update on the process of getting Lake James reclassified by state environmental officials so it can be used as a drinking water source.
--Agreed to adjourn the meeting to Friday, Feb. 22. The commissioners will hold a planning workshop on that day at the Senior Center.
(c)2013 The McDowell News (Marion, N.C.)
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