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Better internet should be coming soon to rural areas of Hillsborough and Pasco counties

A man with yellow vest and orange hard hat helps unspool a giant roll of fiber optic cable.
Ted S. Warren
/
AP
In this Wednesday, Aug. 4, 2021, file photo, Skylar Core, right, a worker with the Mason County (Wash.) Public Utility District, installs a hanger onto fiber optic cable as it comes off of a spool, while working with a team to install broadband internet service to homes in a rural area surrounding Lake Christine near Belfair, Wash.

This is the latest round of funding that is coming from the state, which ultimately derives itself from the Biden Administration’s 2021 Infrastructure Bill. The program commits hundreds of millions of dollars to strengthening internet infrastructure in rural areas of the country.

Pasco and Hillsborough counties are some of the latest counties to receive the a round of funding from the state’s Broadband Opportunity Program, with a goal of providing better internet in their most rural regions.

Hillsborough County is receiving $906,000 for an internet service provider (ISP) to infuse fiber optic cables to areas in the eastern part of the county that are considered "unserved," including Balm, Keysville, Lithia and Wimauma.

Axel Clauberg is Hillsborough County's I-T Division Director for its Information Innovation Office. He said it’s important to get this infrastructure in place as the county continues to grow in population.

"We also have some areas with migrant populations, specifically in Wimauma, to make sure that they have access to the internet,” Clauberg said. “And so we're working with partners in those areas just to make sure that they can grow at the same speed and have the same possibilities and access like everybody else has."

For this specific pot of money, Charter Communications, which houses the broadband services of Spectrum, will receive the money to lay down fiber optic cable in these rural regions. Clauberg said the county is “vendor agnostic,” meaning they’ll work with any provider interested in installing the additional access.

Meanwhile, Pasco County is getting roughly $2.5 million for an ISP to do the same in unincorporated areas, as well as the cities of San Antonio, Dade City, Zephyrhills, and other parts of the county.

Charter Communications is also receiving the funding for Pasco’s internet projects in this round of funding as well.

"People that have broadband service now will say, 'Oh, that sounds nice,' but this is transformational opportunities for people that really don't have the opportunities that everybody else has,” said David Engel, Pasco County's Economic Growth Director.

“It's going to create better lives, better, better economic outcomes, and certainly provide equity in our community."

Engel said officials realized how much of an issue a lack of internet service effects people during the COVID pandemic.

“The school board was actually leaving buses in unmet need community areas [for students] to use their broadband on their buses because students couldn't learn without the bandwidth,” Engel said. “It's the economy. It's education, it's leveling the playing field for engagement and communication.”

He also said it will be helpful for people who are transportation disadvantaged and need to use services like telehealth to be seen by a doctor.

The areas considered "unserved" that will be helped through this money will be brought up to higher Internet access standards, which is 25 megabit per second download speeds, and 3 megabit per second upload speeds.

This is the latest round of funding that is coming from the state, which ultimately derives itself from the Biden Administration’s 2021 Infrastructure Bill, which committed hundreds of millions of dollars to strengthening internet infrastructure in rural areas of the country.

Following the closure of the Broadband Opportunity Program when the state runs out of money, there will be two other programs that counties can apply to that will position them for more funding for internet infrastructure projects.

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