FINCASTLE — Botetourt County has hired a part-time consultant to lead its broadband initiatives and prepare a phased plan for building infrastructure in underserved areas of the county.
Administrators hired Sandie Terry after being told about her work during the county’s broadband summit in September. She’ll work as a part-time county employee for $90 per hour through the Department of Economic Development.
Terry has spent her career in information technology across different industries, including state and local governments. She served as the IT director in Franklin County for 10 years and led an initiative to expand broadband there. She’s also worked in Halifax, Grayson, Amelia and Powhatan counties.
“Sandie is one of the best people in the nation to help with a broadband plan,” County Administrator Gary Larrowe said.
In Botetourt County, Terry will gather data from schools, businesses, public safety, county and medical facilities on their current and future internet needs. She’ll load all of this data into a geographic information system, where she can split the county into census blocks and analyze which areas have the highest demand for broadband.
The level of demand will be based on how much broadband is currently available in the area as well as the potential adoption rate — or how likely residents and businesses are to pay to access any new internet infrastructure.
For each area, Terry will provide options on how to meet the demand. She said this could be building municipal networks or identifying potential partners for public-private projects.
Terry said she hopes to present the report to the Botetourt County Broadband Commission before the end of the year. From there, the commission will be able to decide which recommended options to pursue and which to bring before the board of supervisors.
“My goal is to give you clarity on what the county needs,” Terry told the broadband commission at its October meeting. “I really do care about the future and I care about connectivity.”
Terry said that while communities tend to focus on building infrastructure and improving access to broadband, that’s only the first step. Educating the community on how to leverage the technology can help improve quality of life.
Sectors such as health care, education and home-based businesses will come to rely more and more on technology. Communities should be ready to use those changes to their advantage, Terry said.
She generally suggests using the county’s organizations — nonprofits, senior centers, libraries, etc. — to help create and run broadband awareness and adoption programs. Those, along with national nonprofits focused on the issue, can help communities use the broadband infrastructure effectively once it’s built.
“We’re not doing this to make sure everyone can stream video,” Terry said. “It is about the future.”
Implementing any of the solutions in the plan will take years as the county tries to take advantage of state and federal grant opportunities. But the phased plan will be the first step in organizing the county’s efforts.
“It’s complicated, expensive, necessary and it’s convoluted,” Terry said. “These things take years, not weeks.”