Planning board simplifies telecommunications ordinance

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Brittney Burns – Staff Writer

At the direction of county commissioners, the Macon County Planning Board has been working to revise the county’s existing Telecommunications Ordinance. The planning board has been reviewing the county’s existing ordinance and cleaning it up for redundancies and to make sure it meets all the state mandates.

“The main reason for revisions to the ordinance was to come into compliance with state statutes,” said Macon County Planner Jack Morgan. “The planning board used the opportunity to clarify several items as well as eliminate redundancies and contradictions in the older one. An effort was also made by the planning board to recognize new technologies and incorporate them into the ordinance.”

The newly proposed ordinance, which is considerably shorter than the current ordinance, also focuses on ensuring Macon County doesn’t make it difficult for internet companies to do business in the community.

“The most significant changes are the exceptions, in particular the 50-foot pole,” said Morgan. “Also to simplify the notification process as now only adjoining property owners would have to be notified by mail, but a notice still has to be posted and a public hearing still must be advertised.”

According to Morgan, the planning board revised the ordinance keeping in mind that it would be used as a tool to address connectivity issues throughout the county.

“The hope would be that a provider would use this ordinance to maybe consider something like a WIFI network extending broadband service to many more areas within the county,” said Morgan.

While the new telecommunication ordinance will address some issues that might have been preventing new towers from being erected and companies doing business in Macon County, Morgan noted that the overall connectivity of Macon County remains a significant issue.

“The new ordinance will be a massive improvement in simplicity as compared to the older ordinance,” said Morgan. “The overall connectivity for the county is a big issue and will require further attention.”

Droves of Macon County residents spoke during the public comment period of the commissioners’ August meeting asking the county to work to address deadspots and the lack of connectivity reaching in to the more rural part of the county.

According to the Pew Research Center, 84 percent of adults use the internet and those who live in rural areas are less likely than those in the suburbs and urban areas to use the internet. Still, 78 percent of rural residents are online.

While internet connectivity has grown in rural areas, the growth rates have been significantly lower than other communities. One factor in lower Internet penetration may be that many rural residents say they have less choice than others about the way they access the Internet.

About 29 percent of rural Internet users say the Internet Service Provider they use is the only one available to them.  In contrast, 7 percent of urban users reported a single ISP, and about 9 percent of suburban users were serviced by a lone ISP.

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