(Editor’s Note: At a special called meeting on Nov. 19, Marlboro County Council members were updated on the initiatives in their Strategic Plan. Over the next few weeks, we will review the progress made on each of these items. This week, the Herald-Advocate is focusing on Broadband and Citizen Communications initiatives.)
Marlboro County Council had several strategies in 2020 to improve broadband.
They were to lobby state regulatory agencies, internet providers, and others to address issues regarding access to high-speed internet in our community and seek grants or other funding to address specific infrastructure needs.
County Administrator Ron Munnerlyn said improving broadband was a win for the county. The goal was to have a plan and go after funding from the agency.
“We were the worst in the state with regards to broadband access,” he said. “And when COVID hit, all of a sudden it became a big problem.”
The county worked with Sandhill Telephone Cooperative to come up with a plan.
"We didn't have any money but we had a plan," he said.
Then they learned there would be Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act funding and were able to get some of the money.
Munnerlyn noted it made things a lot easier because they had done their homework. It allowed them to provide some of the areas that needed broadband.
One of the obstacles was the project had to be done by mid-December. He noted the state took six weeks to come up with an application to get the money.
"We are pumped up because we made a real dent," he said.
One of the goals for 2021 was to look at the study and see what is left to do.
The legislature has allocated $65 million for the Department of Commerce for rural counties. Some of this money is to be used to improve broadband.
Munnerlyn said they are going to go back, beat on doors and try to get the rest of the broadband needs for the county funded.
"We will partner with Sandhill," he said. "We will partner with anybody that has the same goals that we do."
Munnerlyn said initiatives for 2021 include:
— Revise internal study to determine remaining infrastructure needs.
— Partner with others to seek additional grant funding.
— Develop Wi-Fi networks in towns/city centers.
Another of the county's strategic initiatives for 2021 is increasing communication with citizens.
Some goals include having a quarterly newsletter, which would be distributed electronically or by mail.
Another initiative is looking into having a digital sign similar to the one that Northeastern Technical College has. This would allow the county to post information on it. Munnerlyn added it would have to be budgeted and figure out where to put it.
Officials also want to encourage people to sign up for CodeRED.
CodeRED is an emergency notification service that allows emergency officials to notify residents and businesses by telephone, cell phone, text message, email, and social media regarding time-sensitive general and emergency notifications.
Munnerlyn said they would work to encourage citizens to sign up for it.
"Then when something bad is going on, we can get (information) to people quickly," he said.
And officials would work on a 311 system.
Currently, if there is a problem or road maintenance, county employees create a work order. The work can be tracked until it is completed and can provide citizens with a link to go to.
"It would allow us a way to send an email to people to see what we are doing and for us to track what is going," he said.
The four initiatives for 2021 include:
— Quarterly newsletter
— Digital sign
—Emergency Preparedness systems
— 311 System