Addressing the digital gap in King and Queen

KING & QUEEN — In today's digitally driven world, it's hard to imagine life without the Internet.

But that's a reality for nearly half of the residents in King and Queen County. Whether it's cost, lack of service or digital knowledge, a large sector of the rural population still hasn't logged on.

To close that digital divide, the Center for Innovative Technology (CIT) is exploring ways to bring Internet access and technology training to King and Queen.

"There is a real opportunity there," said CIT Program Manager Sandie Terry. "There is an aging population and they need an outreach program to increase digital literacy across the county."

King and Queen County Administrator Tom Swartzwelder recently approached CIT for help after he discovered that although the county provides wireless service for its residents, it is being underutilized.

CIT recently conducted a six-month study to assess wireless access in King and Queen and better understand why only 300 residents are taking advantage of the county's broadband system.

The $3,500 state-funded survey, a part of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) broadband initiative, revealed that 43 percent of residents are still not connected to the Internet.

Wireless service

The King and Queen County Wireless Service Authority and Gamewood Technology Group Inc. partnered in 2012 to use wireless technology to provide King and Queen high-speed Internet service. The program, available online at KQVA.net, utilizes four existing tower sites, which allow 70-75 percent coverage throughout the county.

Swartzwelder said there are still several pockets of service problems throughout the county but they could be addressed if eight to 10 residents in that area request service.

"We currently have 300 customers on our broadband and most are younger households. They usually have some sort of Internet, whether it's from the county or another provider like Verizon or Cox," Swartzwelder said. "For the most part, the aging population and economically disadvantaged residents do not utilize the program."

Firsthand experience

One of the 300 customers enjoying the county's broadband service is St. Stephen's Church resident and School Board Chairman Joseph Williams.

"It really is wonderful," he said.

Williams was one of the beta testers when the program first launched. He stuck with the service after he saw the advantages.

"I have four kids so we have a lot of video streaming and with this broadband service, we can all watch videos with no delays or buffering," Williams said.

"It also has no data limit, costs a lot less than the private services, and it is much faster."

Now on the county's broadband system, Williams can stream and telework in real time without any trouble. He said he enjoyed the county's broadband so much he upgraded to direct-by-site, which only costs him $30 per month.

"It's an amazing deal and I will never go back," said Williams, who admitted that he was reluctant at first to use the county's system.

"As a whole, my belief is that the government should stay out of such a thing, but now that I have it, I am glad that they didn't," he said.