Broadband internet service will soon be available in several areas of Alexander County as a broadband internet pilot program is about to begin. Alexander County Economic Development Corporation and Alexander County Government staff met with Open Broadband LLC recently to discuss the current status of the broadband pilot program in Alexander County.

Open Broadband is planning to begin the installation of equipment atop Linney’s Mountain this week. Once the equipment is deployed and configured, a test plan will be run to ensure satisfactory performance. At that point, Open Broadband will begin rolling out broadband service to homes and businesses that are located within the coverage area.

Open Broadband has a wait list to allow interested residents and business owners to sign up to receive internet service when it’s available in their area. To join the wait list, visit www.openbb.net/alexanderco.

Once residents sign up for the wait list, the Open Broadband team will email and/or call to schedule a site visit to determine if the internet speed is adequate at that location. By joining the wait list, there is no obligation or commitment to subscribe to Open Broadband’s service. Open Broadband has no contracts, no usage caps, no throttling, no bundling, but offers around-the-clock technical support.

Jeff Peal, chairman of the Alexander County Board of Commissioners, said this is an exciting project that is finally coming to fruition.

“Alexander County conducted a broadband survey back in June 2017, which showed a tremendous need for expanding broadband internet service in the county,” Peal said. “To get a better understanding of our need and how service could be improved, the county awarded a contract in September 2017 to Open Broadband for a feasibility study. After learning those results, we began investigating ways to move this critical project forward.”

The feasibility study reinforced the survey results, showing that there are significant internet service gaps. The county has substantial infrastructure in place such as fiber optic cable, towers, and mountains. The study showed that fixed wireless would likely be the best option for the county in terms of cost and coverage. (Fixed wireless internet provides qualified households and small businesses with high-speed internet service via an outdoor antenna and indoor Wi-Fi Gateway router.) A pilot program was recommended to find an internet service provider that will work with the county to install fixed wireless internet service to provide coverage to underserved and unserved areas.

The Alexander County EDC applied for, and received, a $50,000 grant from the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) in early 2019 to help fund the pilot program. The EDC then issued a request for proposals in March to find an internet service provider (ISP) with the best plan, qualifications, and price point. Upon review of the proposals, the EDC Board of Directors approved a contract with Open Broadband to conduct the pilot program. Per the contract, Open Broadband provided a $50,000 match to the ARC grant, and Alexander County Government contributed $36,470 to the project.

“The EDC is excited to play a role in the expansion of broadband internet service in Alexander County,” said Andrew Jackson, chairman of the Alexander County EDC Board of Directors. “The process has taken some time to get the desired results, but we are at a turning point where we will begin seeing some positive results as many of our residents and businesses will have the opportunity to become connected resulting in improved quality of life and commerce.”

Jackson expressed his appreciation to the Appalachian Regional Commission for the grant, the Western Piedmont Council of Governments for applying for and administering the grant, and to Alexander County Government for providing matching funds.

Peal said that Alexander County Government is proud to be a part of the broadband pilot program, and hopes to invest in more broadband opportunities for citizens and businesses.

“Pending the results from this pilot program, we hope to continue this partnership and work to expand the broadband network to cover as much of Alexander County as possible in the next few years,” Peal said. “County officials and staff will continue to pursue all opportunities to expand broadband internet service to our residents and businesses.”

During the rollout, the Open Broadband team identifies homes and businesses that are candidates for service and performs basic tests to determine eligibility. While not all homes immediately qualify for service, their engineering team utilizes service request form submissions to find neighborhoods and other geographical groups of customers to prioritize efforts.

“This means that while your home may not qualify right away, it is important for you and others in your area to submit your address to ensure the community as a whole is identified,” said Alan Fitzpatrick, CEO of Open Broadband. “If we cannot turn up service at your home right away, we will keep your name on our wait list and notify you when we are able to serve your address.”

The team has compiled a list of “vertical assets” upon which they can mount fixed wireless broadband equipment; however, they will be seeking additional assets such as grain silos, mountain tops, or possibly even land on which a tower could be erected.

“Our fixed wireless solutions utilize several different technologies to ensure the highest speed, reliability, and quality of service for our customers,” said Kent Winrich, chief technology officer for Open Broadband. “Compared to fiber or cable, fixed wireless is much faster to deploy, and does not involve digging up streets or moving lines on poles.”

Open Broadband’s home office is located in Waxhaw. They currently serve portions of Alamance, Alexander, Caswell, Chatham, Duplin, Franklin, Gaston, Granville, Greene, Lee, Mecklenburg, Orange, Rowan, Rutherford, Stanly, Vance, Wake, and Wayne counties.

Stay up-to-date with the progress of Open Broadband’s projects on their Facebook page at www.facebook.com/openbbnet. For more information, visit www.openbb.net, call 919-205-5400, or email info@openbb.net.

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