“That lack of service makes it difficult, if not impossible, to do homework, run a home business, join a webinar or link into telemedicine — let alone stream a video or even watch a county commissioner meeting from home,” she said.
Kevin McNamara, a resident of northern Orange County, said he often can't access the internet or receive cell phone reception.
“Cell phone availability is not a viable option for us in our community,” said McNamara. “The only internet source I have is provided from CenturyLink, so when CenturyLink’s service is down or substantially slowed, which happens frequently, I can’t even as much make a phone call from my house using my cell phone.”
Parents in unserved areas worry especially about their children’s ability to keep up in school because they need access to the internet for their homework.
“My daughter’s in the fourth grade, and we need internet service for her to be able do her schoolwork,” said Orange County resident Kate Lloyd. “I just don’t understand that I’m five minutes from downtown, and (AT&T and Spectrum) can’t extend their lines that much further.”
The county’s contract with Open Broadband is a phased project, with $385,280 approved for the first phase of the pilot program — covering north and central areas of Orange County. Pending the success of the initial project, $114,720 will be allocated for Pilot Program 2 in the southernmost area of the county,
Jim Northrup, spokesperson for Orange County, said the project will cover 2,700 address points out of 4,937 underserved or unserved addresses in the county. Northrup said there’s a possibility the southernmost service circle will be moved to the north to cover more customers, though such a move may be contingent on a new cell tower by Orange County Emergency Services.
“Independent of this, we have been doing a communication tower study with emergency services, and the consideration for broadband service was in consideration of where to put the first towers,” Northrup said. “We’re definitely at the table when they’re talking about constructing those towers, and we’ve reserved a strata of the tower that would enable us to offer a low barrier of entry to put something on those towers to improve broadband.”
The county will have test sites in each service circle, in order to ensure Open Broadband’s speeds are accessible for 90 percent of area address points.
Since the broadband may not work for 10 percent of service area residents, Northrup recommended customers keep an existing internet service provider for a few weeks after adding Open Broadband.
“With some (internet service providers), once you drop it — say you have a 3Mb rate — they’ll drop you to a 1Mb rate,” Northrup said. “I would not suggest running out and dropping your ISPs at this moment, but as this program starts taking shape and starts reaching its stride, I think it’ll be an obvious alternative choice for the existing service providers in those areas.”
Residents in Orange County can begin signing up for Open Broadband’s pilot at www.openbb.net.