County council approves towering incentive for wireless broadband expansion

 

GEORGETOWN – Sussex County is aiming to tower above in wireless efforts to bring internet service to under-served portions of the county.

County council at its April 10 meeting approved an agreement to incentivize providers of wireless internet service to expand their broadband services in Sussex County.

The agreement authorizes any WISP (Wireless Internet Service Providers) access to all county-owned vertical towers and access of up to two state-owned towers.

“Why are we incentivizing them first when we are looking to provide broadband to Sussex County?” said Sussex County Director of Information Technology Dwayne Kilgo. “Well, we know rural fiber to provide internet to our rural areas is not economical. It is very costly. It’s thousands per mile; tens of thousands.”

“Many Sussex County constituents and businesses have limited or non-existent access to options for affordable broadband,” Mr. Kilgo said. “Affordable wire broadband is still out of reach for many rural areas …”

In the agreement, the county will pay the Delaware Division of Communications $1,000 per month for each state tower requested by the WISP for a maximum of two years. The county has worked directly with the state to receive approval for the use of select state towers located in Sussex County.

“We’re incentivizing wireless broadband providers to gain access to all vertical assets within Sussex County,” Mr. Kilgo explained. “So, we’re allowing them access to our Sussex County-owned towers free of charge for a period of time, and then for state towers we are allowing them up to a max of two years, up to two state towers that the county will pay for. After that two years the vendor would pay …”

County councilman George Cole asked when “full coverage of this county will be achieved?”

“We have one vendor that is currently working to build up in the west side of the county, and around the east side of Georgetown airport, the industrial park,” said Mr. Kilgo. “I’d say they would have service for us probably within a month, that they will start to turn up service.”

“So, for everybody in this county to have service, you’re saying a month?” questioned county councilman Rob Arlett.

“They will start in areas where they can get their equipment. They have already started advertising on the west side of the county,” said Mr. Kilgo.

“Will that cover that whole area?” asked county councilman Irwin “I.G.” Burton.

It will, said Mr. Kilgo. “A lot of the equipment, the technology that a lot of these vendors use will give them a 5- to 6-mile radius. Some of them actually go further than that,” he said. “The county, we are only so wide. When you are looking at five to six miles radius, it doesn’t require that many towers to achieve that. I am looking at maybe five base stations.”

“We have had some interest from a lot of wireless wire providers, even fiber providers. They’ve done their assessments of where our dead areas are,” said Mr. Kilgo.

“So, this opens up the ability for others to provide internet to the county, not the county to provide internet,” Mr. Burton said.

“We (the county) are not going to be in the internet business,” Mr. Kilgo emphasized.

County councilman Samuel Wilson Jr. asked about using satellites.

“Satellite has a high latency,” said Mr. Kilgo. “USDA does not consider satellite as a true proven service to our rural areas. So, it is not even considered.”

In the fiscal year 2018 budget, county council authorized $1 million for the planning and implementation of rural broadband throughout Sussex County. The funding was earmarked for the solicitation and build of both wired and wireless broadband solutions to underserviced and unserved areas and communities.

Through stakeholder meetings and discussions, one approach to meeting the goal of broadband expansion was to develop an agreement to incentivize WISP to expand their services in Sussex County. The concept is to assist the WISP by alleviating some upfront expenses in building a wireless solution. Once the WISP develops a customer base, it will remain in Sussex County.

The agreement was drafted by the Information Technology Department and the county attorneys.

“One million has been allocated in our current budget for broadband expansion in this county. A lot of people don’t understand that, but this council has been committed,” said Mr. Arlett. “You (Mr. Kilgo) have been committed as our top consultant/employee in the IT world.”

“But I think we also need to know that we’ve got to do this, because it’s also the kids. A lot of these kids go home and can’t do school work, can’t do internet, they can’t get access,” Mr. Arlett said. “I think we have to continue to seek and search new ways to bring high-speed internet to our residents and to those students. So, I applaud your efforts.”

Mr. Kilgo said this initiative will serve county residents and businesses and provide opportunity for economic growth. It could open the door for data centers. “So, a lot of companies can come here and provide data services, sell data center space for large corporations,” he said.

“You have spent a lot of time in the last year and a half working on this, getting vendors in here, working with the state,” said county council president Michael Vincent. “Thank you very much for all of your effort.”

“Council’s efforts to expand broadband in Sussex County is much appreciated,” said Mr. Kilgo.

News Editor Glenn Rolfe can be reached at grolfe@newszap.com

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