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County takes first step toward improving internet access countywide

Apr 24, 2023 12:52PM ● By Linda Petersen

This Governor’s Office of Economic Development map shows the known broadband internet coverage in Morgan County. Courtesy image

Morgan County has received a grant from the Governor’s Office of Economic Development to begin the process of improving broadband internet service across the county. The Broadband Access Grant gives the county $30,000 to help identify areas that need increased investment in high-speed internet infrastructure, digital skills training and access to online devices.

“One of the issues we’ve had is identifying the needs in the county as a whole,” said James Ebert, Morgan County’s economic development director. “The state has a program to help us identify the areas of need, whether they’re underserved or there’s a low-data package or there’s a high-data package and we’re not meeting it — maybe the carrier’s just not meeting advertised speeds — but we’ve had a little bit of a difficulty getting that website/program used.”

“Another issue is a lack of interest by providers to serve Morgan County,” he said. “The state has come up with a connectivity plan … This is the first step.”

That first step is gathering data to determine just what the needs are in Morgan County. To help with data collection, the county has contracted with Horrocks Engineers who will administer a survey and encourage Morgan County residents to take a Utah Internet Speed Test which will indicate where there is a lack of broadband internet to homes and businesses.

According to its contract with the county, Horrocks will also develop a landing page on Connecting Utah for Morgan County which will have the public survey and link to the speed test. To inform Morgan County residents about the survey and speed test, they will develop a public outreach plan, including setting up a hotline, developing materials to encourage survey participation, developing and running a Facebook ad and preparing a flyer and mailer for distribution. They will also prepare for and conduct door-to-door canvassing to obtain survey responses in targeted areas.

After all the data has been gathered, Horrocks will analyze it to determine the areas of need in Morgan County, develop a Morgan County broadband plan, perform cost analysis on planned broadband projects and create maps showing existing conditions and future broadband planning.

This planning is necessary for Morgan to be considered for future federal grants, Commissioner Blaine Fackrell said. “This is so we can get other federal grants because the federal grants are coming out this summer and this fall. They want everybody covered and we’re not covered.”

These plans will be included in the statewide five-year digital connectivity action plan which will provide information about how the state can best support Utah communities, including Morgan County, in improving internet connection, he said.

According to the GEOD website, this program “funds target areas unlikely to receive broadband service without grant funding.”

“I really feel like this is the benchmark they’re using as federal dollars are allotted to broadband expansion,” Ebert said. “If we are working with Horrocks who is doing a number of [studies] — so they have continuity through these plans — I think it will put us in a much better place when they’re prioritizing projects.”

“Having internet access is crucial in maintaining Utah’s competitive edge in the marketplace,” said Ryan Starks, the governor’s Economic Opportunity office’s managing director of business services in a post on the GOED website. “Ensuring all Utahns have equal access to broadband availability is essential to maintaining a thriving marketplace, and the Broadband Access Grant provides just that.”

Commissioners were enthusiastic in their support of this new endeavor.

“I think this step is phenomenal, and it should have happened two years ago, but better late than never,” said Commissioner Jared Anderson. “I think it’s a great process.” λ

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