Newton may lease UHF spectrum to improve access to high-speed Internet

Oct 22, 2018

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COVINGTON — Newton County will explore the possibility of leasing ultra high frequencies licensed to the county to a wireless Internet provider in order to increase access to broadband for residents in rural areas.

Commissioners voted unanimously Oct. 16 to issue a request for proposals for leasing the UHF spectrum. Commissioners had heard a proposal from Paladin Wireless at a work session earlier this month before determining that, under the county’s purchasing policy, they would need to issue an RFP before moving forward with any provider.

District 1 Commissioner Stan Edwards, who has spearheaded the effort to improve broadband access in the county, said he wanted to ensure that the RFP specifies that the purpose of leasing the spectrum would be to provide high-speed Internet in Newton County, not to make it possible for a provider to gain control of the spectrum for a competitive advantage in the marketplace. 

Edwards became involved in exploring options for providing high-speed Internet in underserved areas of the county after hearing complaints from constituents, particularly in the Mansfield area. Edwards said he finds it ironic that Facebook is developing a data center on the eastern side of his district, while residents just a few miles away don’t have access to high-speed Internet.

Through the Covington-Newton County Chamber of Commerce, Edwards said he came into contact with Paladin Wireless, a Royston-based company that specializes in small-scale, wireless broadband systems.

“You get in those remote areas of the county, and there’s just nothing (in terms of Internet service),” Edwards said. “The return on investment is just not there for the big providers.”

Steve Fortmann, owner and operator of Paladin Wireless, told commissioners earlier this month that he has created broadband systems in several underserved North Georgia cities and counties using Nokia radio transmitter/receivers that are installed atop water towers and other municipal structures. Fortmann said that, using Newton County’s UHF spectrum, he could potentially reach 20,000 subscribers in 21 counties. He said that Paladin would agree to a revenue share with the county that could eventually generate as much as $1.8 million annually.

According to Jody Nolan, Newton County’s Emergency Management director, the county holds licenses for four frequencies that it uses on a limited basis for intergovernmental communication. “So, although they are in use, they have a much broader capability that could potentially be used for wireless high-speed Internet services for some of the rural areas of Newton County that don’t have access currently,” said Nolan.

Nolan said the revenue potential would be a plus, particularly if the funds generated could be used to invest in the county’s public safety communication system.

County Manager Lloyd Kerr said the RFP process will “give public notice that we have this and see who else might be interested in either purchasing or leasing with the intention of providing Internet service.” 

He said Nolan will put together the RFP and it will be posted on both the county and state websites.