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68 | BROADBAND COMMUNITIES | www.broadbandcommunities.com | NOVEMBER/DECEMBER 2015 ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT Fiber to the Panhandle: Walton County, Fla. Government agencies in a rural Florida county are cooperating with one another and with the private sector to install next-generation fber infrastructure. By Masha Zager / Broadband Communities W alton County, located in the middle of the Florida Panhandle, has beautiful beaches, historic buildings and a growing population. What it lacks is good broadband. Incumbent providers have failed to invest in the region's infrastructure, and as a result, connectivity has been both poor and expensive. Some county agencies pay as much as $500 per month for 3 Mbps DSL connections that don't meet their needs. "Basic functions of our government are not working due to inadequate speeds," explains Rick Wilson, projects and programs manager for the Walton County Board of County Commissioners. In April 2015, the county government sent Wilson to the BroadBand Communities Summit, where he met local ofcials from around the United States who faced similar problems – and learned that solutions to those problems exist. Wilson took his fndings back to the commissioners and worked with them to organize a group of local government agencies that would serve as anchor tenants on a new, competitive fber network. Along with the county board of commissioners, other government organizations – the sherif 's department, the school district and the county clerk of courts – all signed on to the project. "We came to a consensus that it would beneft everyone," Wilson says, adding that the benefts of cooperation were so evident that none of these agencies thought of following the "separate fefdoms" strategy that has doomed partnerships in some other localities. Te new network, currently under construction by the Alabama-based metro fber provider Southern Light, will connect more than 50 public buildings, including schools, libraries, frehouses, sherif 's ofces, a rural health care ofce, road crew ofces, commissioners' ofces and community centers. Both the county and Southern Light are investing in the network, but what makes it all possible is funding from E-Rate, the Universal Service Fund program that subsidizes school and library connectivity. Walton County schools and libraries will have their own dedicated fber, but additional strands of fber along the same routes will be available to the other agencies. According to Wilson, Walton County "will be installing about $30 million of infrastructure for just under $1.5 million in taxpayer funds" – the local match for the E-Rate funding. SAVINGS FOR COUNTY AGENCIES With the new network, some county agencies will have 500 times the bandwidth they had in the past. Walton County will save money as well. Connectivity prices have been high in part because of the incumbent telco's monopoly status and in part because county agencies have more than 20 separate DSL connections. Use of a competitive provider and a shared Internet