Calhoun County officials and representatives of various local agencies including the Calhoun County School Board met together recently to forge an historic agreement that is expected to bring a new level of Internet and data services to northwest Florida.
Opportunity Florida and its Florida Rural Broadband Alliance (FRBA) closed on the purchase of five acres of property and a communications tower near Clarksville as one of the initial steps toward the construction of the FRBA broadband network.
Key players in the tower acquisition included several local business leaders and the Maurice Partrich family, who sold the land, and the Calhoun County Sheriff’s Office, who sold the tower they previously used.
The network, made possible through a federal National Telecommunication and Information Administration (NTIA) grant to Opportunity Florida and its sister organization, the Florida Rural Heartland Economic Development Initiative, will provide enhanced data and communication access to local communities, businesses, schools, hospitals and public agencies.
The Florida Rural Broadband Alliance is being constructed in Calhoun and Liberty, Jackson, Washington, Holmes, Gulf, Franklin and Gadsden that are members of Opportunity Florida, a business development organization operated to support the economic development efforts throughout this “Rural Area of Critical Economic Concern.” The FRBA system will be deployed as a wireless system offering high capacity, lower priced wholesale data across a series of towers and interconnections to tier one fiber buried along major data transport corridors and data centers within the region. A primary goal of the FRBA project is to create a data backbone which will be constructed to provide comprehensive service to under-served areas.
Purchase of the communication tower which was leased to the Calhoun County Sheriff’s Department, along with the purchase of adjoining property, was made possible with a Rural Infrastructure Grant through the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity (formerly OTTED). The tower will be connected to a Level Three, Inc.-owned fiber network and data center located along SR 20 near the community of Clarksville, west of Blountstown. From the Clarksville tower, data will routed to other tower mounted dishes throughout the region.
Opportunity Florida, recipient of the Rural Infrastructure Grant, will deed the tower to the Calhoun County District Schools. FRBA will market and manage the tower which is expected to generate revenue for the network, Opportunity Florida and, eventually, the Calhoun County School District. Other tower acquisitions, including a near Chipola College are expected within the region over the next several months with the DEO Rural Infrastructure Grant. Within the terms of that grant, the towers are to be publicly owned and provide needed infrastructure to rural areas.
Patrich and his family were on hand with Calhoun County school board member and broker Danny Ryals, Sheriff David Tatum and Opportunity Florida/FRBA board members Vicki Montford, Johnny Eubanks and Kristy Terry. Terry is also executive director for the Calhoun County Chamber of Commerce.
Chairman Johnny Eubanks, along with Opportunity Florida staff thanked both Sheriff Tatum and the Patrich family. “Danny Ryals stepped up to the plate to get the job done,” said Opportunity Florida board member and local banker Vicki Montford. “He and Sheriff Tatum jumped right on to make the project happen.”
Construction of the entire FRBA network should be completed within the first quarter of 2013 with service available to last mile retail providers and public community anchor institutions made available as the system is incrementally completed.