As rural counties look to expand their Internet access, Hardee is already leading the pack

    Head shot of a man in a business suit

Grants from the state’s Department of Economic Opportunity are helping counties strengthen their Internet infrastructure.

The latest round of funding fuels an additional $60 million to expand Internet access in several rural counties, including Hardee, Desoto and Highlands.

Meanwhile, one county is already at the forefront.

Justin Smith, with the development group in Hardee County, discusses the county’s unique rural Internet infrastructure and how they hope to improve it.

Lebron Sky: If you could use one word to describe Hardee County’s Internet infrastructure, as it currently stands, which word would you use?

Justin Smith: Advance.

SL: And why?

    Head shot of a man in a business suit

js: This is because to date we have not found any other location that has exactly what we have developed here.

SL: And what have you developed here?

js: It’s a wireless broadband system that covers our entire county, about 96% of our county to be exact. And it enables wireless broadband to even the remotest parts of our county’s rural areas.

SL: You said that Hardee County is in a very unique situation. Have you looked across the state to see what else is going on?

js: Yeah, so I wasn’t aware of how unique we were until broadband became such a hot topic. I kind of thought there would be other places with something similar to what we did, and maybe there weren’t many, but there would be one or two others. In the state of Florida, I can safely say, there is nothing like what we have for Rapid Systems.

“Well, the more access you have to anything, you know, the more growth potential you have. I strongly believe that the internet and broadband are essential and must precede any kind of growth.”

Justin Smith

SL: How do you think this puts you 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 is the internet? Because I can only have a home in this place. Pretty much anywhere in the entire county, you could walk in, you could build a house, you could work from home there, and be perfectly fine with the speed of the internet.

SL: What’s next for Hardee County in terms of making sure they’re up to date and getting the best available internet infrastructure possible?

js: So like everyone else, we’re trying to stay abreast of the grant opportunities that are emerging 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 possible, just like everybody. Where we’re a little ahead of the curve, we can strengthen our current infrastructure instead of having to start from scratch.

    This broadband map highlights socially vulnerable communities in pink and underserved areas in orange.

Florida Department of Economic Opportunity

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Courtesy

This broadband map highlights socially vulnerable communities in pink and underserved areas in orange.

SL: What do you think this would mean for the county in the future if you were actually able to build it, ideally, with everything possible?

js: Well, the more access you have to anything, you know, the more growth potential you have. I strongly believe that the internet and broadband are essential and must precede any kind of growth.

SL: I find it very interesting that you say this, that it must precede growth. It has to be there for when people are already there. Not people came there, and then you try to install things. Does that just screw things up and make them harder?

“No one wants to say, well, I’m going to go build a house here. And I think probably in six or 12 months we’ll have the internet and we can start using it again. That’s just not realistic.”

Justin Smith

js: Not only does it make things more difficult, I find that people are now in business, people when they choose where they want to live they choose a place that already has it because they are out of time. Nobody wants to say, well, I’m going to build a house here. And I think probably in six or 12 months we’ll have the internet and we can start using it again. This is unrealistic.

SL: Let’s say something theoretically doesn’t happen and things stay the same. How do you see this going to work out for the county in the long run?

js: Worst case scenario, we don’t get any grants for it and find a different way to do it. You know, before people talked about broadband, before subsidies existed, we figured out a way to make that happen. And that’s one of the great things about a rural area is that people tend to come together and say, no, this is what we want. We will do it.


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