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Bringing broadband to Levy might broaden horizons

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By Mark Scohier

Bringing wireless internet to Levy County will provide a major boost to the economy, officials with the newly formed North Florida Broadband Authority say.

“It’s a very large variable when it comes to attracting new businesses,” Pat Lien, project leader for NFBA, said.

According Lien and other experts, many new businesses will turn away from areas unable to provide such services.

But he also said broadband would increase opportunities for at-home businesses.

“For example,” he said, “ medical transcription is huge in Florida, and being able to do that from home is a big advantage.”

Pat O’Neal, a Cedar key commissioner, one of two Levy County representatives on the Authority, said broadband will be crucial in attracting new businesses, and he hopes the NFBA will be successful in receiving federal economic stimulus money.

“The money’s gonna’ be there.  I’d like to see my region get some of that.”

O’Neal said broadband, besides bringing business to the area, would also help make various businesses and agencies more efficient, which, he added, ends up saving everybody money.

He cited two examples:

• Law enforcement agencies would be able to watch activities using strategically positioned surveillance cameras, thus increasing their ability to nab criminals.

• Doctors and medical staff  could hold conferences—increasing their ability to save lives and heal the injured.

O’Neal also said the technology would expand educational opportunities for the area and provide a lower cost alternative to traditional phone service.

Terri Ernissee, owner of Affordable Solutions in Bronson, said the plan to bring wireless internet to the area is a good idea.

“People that live in areas in between … those people cannot get high-speed internet.”

One of the things Ernissee’s business does is fix computers, and she said having access to high-speed Internet allows people access to things such as anti-virus updates, which, she said, are not available to people using dial-up service.

Despite her approval of the project, she admitted that broadband might end up costing her a few clients.

Lien said the project, which involves 14 counties, is expected to cost about $31 million, most of which will come out of the $7.2 billion in federal economic stimulus funds.

He said the money, if received, would be given out in December.  

As for the likelihood that the NFBA will be awarded

stimulus money, Lien said, “We think we have a very compelling story.”

Furthermore, O’Neal, in response to some public concern over the lack of information available about the NFBC, said it’s because the organization is so new.

“It wasn’t actually registered with counties until last week.”'

O’Neal explained that the deadline to apply for the funds had been moved up, and officials had to act fast.

“It’s amazing to see 14 counties move so fast.  When was the last time you ever heard of government moving so fast?”

O’Neal said although there is no single official location for the NFBC, that would change when, and if, stimulus money is received.

And he said the North Florida Economic Development Partnership would oversee the organization. The Levy County Board of County Commissioners is a member of the Partnership. The county's representatives on the Partnership are Commissioner Lilly Rooks, also a member of the Broadband Authority, and Amanda Douglas, Natures Boast Business Development Council executive director.

    For more information on broadband technology, log on to www.fcc.gov.