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Broadband study attempts to pinpoint reliability issues

The talk of improving broadband capability in Chilton County has picked up in recent months and has been diagnosed as an issue during the Covid-19 pandemic.

“When all of the Covid[-19] stuff started, we were having conversations about the schools going to close,” Industrial Development Authority Executive Director Whitney Barlow said. “We began questioning the broadband and whether kids would be able to get on the internet at their homes and go to school online or would they have to do packets.”

It turned out that a majority of schools went the route of mailing educational packets to students.

According to Barlow, the broadband conversation became a focal point after that and solutions began to be tossed around.

“Do we really know what we have here?” Barlow said. “Counties north of us, counties south of us and counties to the east of us were able to assess their broadband and create hotspots.”

Now that broadband has been pinpointed as an issue that needs improvement moving forward, the next step is to finding a starting point with which to begin laying out a plan.

That is where the countywide broadband feasibility study, which is being paid for through a partnership between the Chilton County Commission, IDA, and the municipalities in the county comes into play.

Elmore County conducted a similar study about two years with Sain Engineering Associates, Inc., which is the same consulting firm Chilton County has hired to gather its measurables.

“We started the conversation with our counterparts in Elmore County and really tried to identify what they did,” Barlow said.

According to Barlow, Elmore County explained that the study Sain did for them, included geographic information system locating, E-911 and public research that was coupled with a public survey.

“The whole purpose of it was to collect all the data over the different software platforms that are available and then compare that to what was being answered by the public [in the survey],” Barlow said.

The survey takes about five minutes to complete, unless the resident is a business owner then it will take roughly 10 minutes due to additional questions being asked.

The survey asks questions pertaining to the speed of their broadband internet, who their provider is, how much they pay for the service and whether or not they are happy with it.

“It wasn’t just about providing [better service], it was also about creating an environment that will allow providers to increase the broadband here and keep it in a reasonable price range for our citizens,” Barlow said.

Residents can find the survey by visiting the Chilton County Schools website at www.chilton.k12.al.us. The study can be accessed by clicking on the “Broadband Study/Survey,” which is the top option under the Links category on the left side of the home page.

The survey can also be directly accessed by typing in https://forms.gle/btvBXLnTRjyVgU3d7 in the URL search box.

According to Barlow, once Sain comes back with the results of the data, they will be able to better pinpoint the certain gaps throughout the county where broadband reliability takes a hit.

Barlow stated that the primary focus initially will be to use the data to improve broadband in the areas of public safety and education.

The study was initially sent out to the email addresses of all parents with children in the Chilton County School System and the next step is to disseminate it to the rest of the public and local business owners.

The initial send out resulted in 672 completed studies, which surpassed Elmore County’s total amount. Barlow expects that number to grow even more.

“We are really getting a good response, which is a very promising thing,” Barlow said.