Officials are working to improve internet access in Santa Rosa County, particularly in rural areas, and it seems the Garcon Point region will be first up on the docket.
Kyle Holley, the county's outreach and community liaison for grants and special projects, has been spearheading the broadband improvement effort in Santa Rosa County. He told the News Journal he plans to spend the next four weeks on information gathering from service providers with a goal of requesting partnerships to improve internet services at designated project areas.
"Who's in the best condition to do it? Who wants to do it? Who wants to take the chance to put some money up in that request for a partnership?" Holley said. "What I'm going to be asking on behalf of the county is, 'Which private company is willing to chip in in the Garcon Point area?'"
While plans are still in the early stages, residents in the Garcon Point area told the News Journal any expanded broadband infrastructure would be welcomed.
"There's a lot of growth here. And a lot of folks are going to want to work from home, or their kids are going to need the internet support. So, it's something I think will be welcomed. It really will," said Garcon Point resident Sarah Abbott, who moved to the county in November 2021.
Abbott also emphasized that the lack of access hurts her work productivity and frustrates her as she tries to run her home remodeling business.
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“I just didn't have the speed or the capacity to participate as fully as I needed to. So that's when I was going to Panera, or Starbucks (to use their Wi-Fi),” Abbott said.
Officials spearheading local technology teams across Florida met for the first time in March to talk through the funding process of distributing more than $866 million for broadband improvements and to strategize ways to build the teams, which are meant to ensure all Floridians have quality internet access.
Florida is set to have a statewide strategic plan for broadband completed this summer and will work in conjunction with both local technology teams and data from a statewide broadband speed test to determine what areas to prioritize.
Florida's Office of Broadband has been rolling out broadband speed testing across Florida to better identify and reach unserved and underserved areas of the state. The resulting map will be an asset to local communities and internet service providers to assist with broadband planning efforts.
Holley said he is still relying on these speed tests to get current information as he coordinates with providers.
He emphasized there are several avenues of funding that can be secured for the Garcon Point project area. He added that the northern end of the county is likely to be serviced by a vendor through Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF) money, which restricts other broadband funds from being used in the area.
Expectations for internet capabilities across the state and country are being raised according to Holley. And he, along with Abbott, pointed to underserviced areas around Garcon Point as a good starting place in doing what the county can to meet those expectations.
"It's kind of like it's been discovered. When we bought our property here, I remember several people telling us when we brought them out here, 'Wow, I didn't know this was here,'" Abbott said. "Because when you go down (major roads here) it is very undeveloped along those roads. But when you take a side road and head to the water, you'll find that there are a lot of homes that are built."
There are several other project areas Holley sad he plans to focus on including ones that center around East Milton and Pace.
This article originally appeared on Pensacola News Journal: In Santa Rosa internet improvement plan, Garcon Point is first step