Early in 2022, the Wayne County Commissioners hired Consultant Kelly Lewis of Lewis Strategic, with money provided by the William H. Chatlos Charitable Gift Fund, to expand broadband service in Wayne County and best position the community to take advantage of state and federal resources earmarked for Rural Broadband.
HONESDALE -- It all began with the Gigabit Survey to identify large employers interested in aggregating their demand for broadband internet services into a Request for Proposals. This effort was aimed at lowering the costs to each business. Approximately 100 employers engaged in the RFP process, and the county has received six strong proposals, according to Lewis.
Another survey sought information about dead cell phone zones in the county, of which more than 3,300 have been documented. Lewis said about 93 percent of e911 calls now originate from cell phones, making the service a matter of public safety rather than convenience. He also emphasized that the consumer side of the project has two distinct parts: one focuses on addressing dead cell zones; the other deals with expanding broadband infrastructure to homes not served and making it more reliable and affordable for those that have service.
Now, Lewis Strategic has proposed a $12 million program primarily funded by the Internet Service Providers that leverages existing infrastructure and builds new capabilities. The project would expand the county’s existing eight 5G towers to 22, which would also support wireless broadband and county e911 equipment.
Every tower will be served by fiber, which enables providers to deliver services “along the way.” At least 10 of these proposed towers would be located north of Honesdale, including three in Damascus and two each in Lebanon and Buckingham Townships.
The outcome of the project, according to Lewis, would be “5G to the Home” for more than 1,000 households and affordable wireless broadband to nearly 2,200 households. He added these projects are designed to quickly deliver service to 500-plus households that do not have viable broadband, and do it at competitive prices.
Lewis Strategic has already identified $8.6 million in industry investments for the project, and is now seeking an additional $3.4 million in local, state and federal funding to get the project started -- possibly by the end of the year. The timing of the project will be critical as communities around the country begin vying for available equipment and expertise in the face of historic government investment.
Reliable and affordable Broadband Internet service has long been identified as one of the key barriers to economic development in Wayne County, even as it very quickly becomes an educational and community necessity across the country.
Wayne County has already seen signs of the impact that competition can have on the market, with providers increasing speeds in some cases and even lower costs in others. One of the goals of the Accelerate Wayne Project is give residents and businesses options for meeting their needs.
Wayne County Commissioners and members of the Wayne Economic Development Corp. Tech Committee believe this project will lay the much needed framework for continued expansion and improved services throughout the county.