While rural counties try to expand their internet access, Hardee is already ahead of the pack
In several rural areas of Florida, a strong internet connection is a rarity. But in Hardee County, the community is a step ahead. Here's how it has provided consistent internet for its community, and how it's looking to build on that success.
Grants from the state's Department of Economic Opportunity are allowing counties to strengthen their internet infrastructure.
The latest round of funding feeds another $60 million toward expanding internet access in several rural counties, including Hardee, Desoto and Highlands.
Meanwhile, one county is already ahead of the curve.
Justin Smith, with the Development Group in Hardee County, discusses the county’s unique rural internet infrastructure, and how they’re hoping to improve it.
Sky Lebron: If you could use a word to describe Hardee County's internet infrastructure, as it currently stands, what word would you use?
Justin Smith: Advanced.
SL: And why is that?
JS: That's because to date, we have not found any other location that has exactly what we have developed here.
SL: And what have you guys developed here?
JS: It is a wireless broadband system that covers our entire county, approximately 96% of our county to be exact. And it allows for wireless broadband to even the farthest reaches of the rural areas of our county.
SL: You brought up that Hardee County is in a very unique situation. Have you looked across the state to see what else has been going on?
JS: Yes, so I was not aware myself exactly how unique we were until broadband became such a hot topic. I did kind of assume that there would be other places that had something similar to what we did, and maybe there weren't a lot of them, but there would be one or two others. In the state of Florida, I can say for sure, there's nothing like what we have for Rapid Systems.
"Well, the more access that you have to anything, you know, the more growth potential you have. I completely believe that internet and broadband is essential to and must precede any type of growth."Justin Smith
SL: How do you think that puts you guys ahead of other counties in the region when it comes to economic development and then other aspects of life?
JS: If I work from home, where's the internet? Because I can only have a house in this location. Pretty much anywhere in the entire county, you could come in, you could build a home, you could work from home there and be completely fine with the internet speeds.
SL: What's next for Hardee County in terms of making sure that they are up to date and getting the best available internet infrastructure possible?
JS: So we, like everyone else, are trying to stay right on top of grant opportunities that are coming out in communications with not only Rapid Systems, but other internet service providers as well. We all believe in healthy competition. And we want to see as much infrastructure as we can possibly get, just like everyone. Where we are a little ahead of the curve, we can beef up our current infrastructure instead of having to start at ground zero.
SL: What do you think this would mean for the county going forward if you were really able to build it out, ideally, with as much as you possibly can?
JS: Well, the more access that you have to anything, you know, the more growth potential you have. I completely believe that internet and broadband is essential to and must precede any type of growth.
SL: I find that very interesting that you say that, that it needs to precede the growth. It needs to be there in place for when people are already there. Not people have come there, and then you kind of try to install things. Does that just muck things up and make it more difficult?
"No one wants to say, ‘well, I'm gonna go build a house here. And I think in probably six or 12 months, then we'll have internet, and we can start using the internet again.’ That's just not realistic."Justin Smith
JS: Not only does it make things more difficult, I find that people now — businesses, people when they choose where they want to live — they are going to choose a place that already has it because they no longer have time. No one wants to say, ‘well, I'm gonna go build a house here. And I think in probably six or 12 months, then we'll have internet, and we can start using the internet again.’ That's just not realistic.
SL: Let's say something theoretically doesn't happen, and things kind of stay the same. How do you see that working out for the county in the long term?
JS: Worst-case scenario, we don't get any grant money for it and we figure out a different way to make it happen. You know, before people were talking about broadband, before grants were around, we figured out a way to make it happen. And that is one of the great things about a rural area is people tend to band together and say, ‘no, this is what we want. We're going to do it.’