Access to fast and reliable internet is an essential service whether in a rural or urban community. It greatly improves quality of life providing easier access to government services, telehealth, and distance learning. In partnership with the Florida State University Barnebey Planning & Development Lab, the Apalachee RPC recently completed a Broadband Feasibility Study for both Liberty and Wakulla counties. Funded through the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity’s Rural Infrastructure Fund grant program, the Studies focus on determining areas of insufficient broadband infrastructure, identifying potential service providers, and determining the needed improvements and associated costs for construction of broadband infrastructure. Community input remained a high priority throughout the project, and staff provided 25 in-person opportunities for citizens of Liberty and Wakulla counties to provide feedback on broadband internet accessibility and affordability.
As rural counties generally have smaller populations and more limited government resources, collaboration is essential to achieving wide-spread broadband access. Recognizing the benefits of addressing broadband as a region, the Apalachee RPC applied for and received funding through the Florida DEO Community Planning Technical Assistance grant program to establish a Regional Technology Planning Team and create a Regional Broadband Plan and Broadband Map. The project represents an extension of the on-going local- and state-level broadband planning efforts by serving to fill the gap and align efforts between state and local planning projects.
The Apalachee Regional Technology Planning Team consists of a representative from each of the nine counties as well as necessary stakeholders from public and private sectors. Once completed, the Apalachee Regional Broadband Plan will serve as a guide for local decision makers in expanding broadband internet coverage in their communities. The Plan will also outline steps for future projects to expand access and identify challenges in the construction and operation of broadband infrastructure. In addition, Council staff is gathering data and developing an online, interactive, regional broadband map for use in understanding needs and filling gaps in the Apalachee Region’s digital divide. The Apalachee Regional Broadband Plan and Map will ensure that the predominantly rural, nine-county Apalachee Region is in the best possible position to access state, federal, and private resources for broadband network expansion.