Broadband Internet Service Becoming Necessity
BY FLORENCE GILKESON
A broadband link offering Internet connections across the county is the next utility to be regarded as a necessity.
This picture of future Internet capability was presented April 15 to a gathering of elected officials at a meeting hosted by the Moore County Board of Commissioners at the Senior Enrichment Center.
"Broadband is a fast and stable Internet connection," said Randall Moore, chief operation officer with Broadlink Wireless, in a presentation to the group.
Moore said the proposed new utility for Moore County would, if adopted, be a public/private partnership with his firm, Broadlink Wireless.
Through this connection, residents of Moore County would be ensured access to the Internet regardless of their location. The process is licensed through the Federal Communications Commission, which reserves radio space. Moore County has already applied for a license for broadband service.
Ray Ogden, director of Partners in Progress, told the group that economic development prospects are increasingly asking about Internet availability when considering the community for a new business or industry. Partners is the nonprofit economic development agency serving Moore County.
Moore said Internet availability is now becoming a necessity when it comes to emergency situations.
"I was in New York on 9/11, and nothing worked," Moore said. "It was chaos."
The Broadlink representative described advantages of the public/private partnership as offering a licensed wireless public safety network that would connect all county and town facilities with availability to all residents.
Moore said the partnership would save the county the expense of major capital expenses, because the company would foot the infrastructure expense.
His presentation was made at the close of a lengthy session in which the elected officials received presentations on countywide emergency services needs, including a proposal to merge three emergency units covering the Vass, Cameron and Woodlake communities in the eastern part of the county.
Steve Allan, president of Solutions for Local Governments, reviewed a study he conducted of Moore County fire, rescue, public safety and communications services in 2004.
His study brought to light multiple problems with the county's system of offering fire, rescue and emergency medical services.
Despite the service of 17 fire districts and 10 rescue squads, Allan determined that the average response times are 11.78 minutes on fire calls for the county as a whole, 11.44 minutes for rescue calls and 10.5 minutes for EMS.
Allan determined that these delayed response times could in many cases be traced directly to such things as geographically large districts with overlapping boundaries.
The districts range from densely populated areas in municipal locations, such as Southern Pines, Pinehurst and Aberdeen, to sparsely populated districts in rural areas.
He also learned that some districts are excessively large for any expectation of speedy response. For example, the Carthage fire district encompasses 114 square miles.
His study also covered such things as the disparity of tax base leading to differing tax rates for fire districts, and the loss of volunteers available to answer emergency fire and rescue calls, especially during the work day.
"Volunteers are going away," Allan said. "It's a very demanding hobby."
The county is making some progress toward correcting these problems. Another prospective correction is a proposal to merge the Vass Rescue Squad, and the Cameron and Circle V fire departments into one unit to serve a more compact region with more efficient service. A presentation on the proposed merger was also heard during the meeting.
Bryan Phillips, county director of public safety, presented an overview of operations as they are carried out today. His presentation covered every aspect of the county public safety network, including Enhanced 911 communications, FCC mandates, radio tower issues, microwave interconnectivity and dispatch efficiency. The 911 service covers the sheriff's department, EMS, 17 fire departments, 10 rescue squads, 10 municipal police departments, Animal Control and special operations.
Phillips reviewed coordination of fire protection districts, rescue squads and EMS.
One concern raising questions from the delegation from Robbins was spotty communications reception in the northern part of the county.
Phillips said that his office is working on solutions. However, the radio reception area in question is operated by the State Highway Patrol and thus is a state issue over which the county has no jurisdiction.
Emergency Medical Services
EMS ambulance service is free to residents of Moore County, although third party payers, such as insurance and Medicare, are billed, and the co-pay portion of the bill is exempted.
If there is no insurance, no charge is made. Nonresidents are billed the regular ambulance fee of $425 with insurance/Medicare billed and the patient billed for the co-pay portion. The typical nonresident is billed $125 for co-pay.
The remaining expenses for EMS are covered through the Advanced Life Support tax that is levied against all property owners in the county. The ALS tax rate this year is two cents per $100 property valuation.
Special taxes are levied in the fire protection districts, with rates varying from district to district. These taxes are paid by residents of all districts but are not levied against residents of municipalities that provide service to out-of-town residents. In those situations, the special tax is levied against out-of-town property owners only, because in-town property owners pay their share through municipal taxes.
Tax rates vary for numerous reasons, ranging from differing needs to differences in the tax base.
Contact Florence Gilkeson by e-mail at Florence@thepilot.com.
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