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Columbia County Broadband Committee: In the Land of the Underserved, Not Reaching Out to the School District

Photo of former County Manager Dale Williams and County Chairman Toby Witt with caption: County Boradband Committee meets. There is much work to do. Data and cooperation are key.
Former County Manager Dale Williams (left) and Committee Chairman Commissioner Toby Witt

COLUMBIA COUNTY, FL – Last night, the Columbia County Broadband Committee met for what may have been its third time. Months ago, Commissioner Toby Witt was appointed by the County 5 to chair the Committee as the Board's representative. The Committee keeps no minutes, does not make agendas or distribute information, and put its meetings on the County calendar for the first time on Monday.


In November 2021, the County 5 discussed establishing a Local Technology Planning Team. A search of the County website [Local Technology Planning Team] does not reveal any documents regarding who is on the team or when it was established.

Recently, the County 5 approved a $20,000 allocation for advertising by the Broadband Committee. This is federal money from ARPA. The school district was not included in the budget.

Last Night at the Committee

Post Meeting With Superintendent Careswell:

Superintendent of School Lex CarswellAfter the meeting, your reporter spoke with School Superintendent Lex Carswell and explained that he had just come from the Broadband Committee meeting and it was said that the school district was not really amenable to helping the County find out about the broadband coverage in the county.

Superintendent Carswell said, “I don’t get all the invites. I don’t know if we were invited to it.”

Superintendent Carswell added, “We need broadband everywhere. Better broadband would help us compete. We are in favor of increasing the service and doing everything we can to help the County and the State to acquire the statistics they need."

“We are willing to come to the table and help. We will make announcements at school board meetings, send the kids home with notes for their parents. We do surveys all the time.”

Superintendent Carswell summed up, “Broadband is on everybody’s mind. Ever since COVID hit we’ve been using virtual school and long distance learning. We need better broadband.”

Commissioner Witt runs a good meeting, asks intelligent questions, makes his points without rambling on-and-on like some commissioners, and allows everybody to speak.”

Commissioner Witt told the Committee that at the last meeting, the discussion revolved around the application, which shows at what speeds County internet users are connected.

Commissioner Witt added that the County 5 “allocated twenty-thousand dollars into a budget for promoting people to do the application.”

County Manager David Kraus explained the state has a website “they want you to move into. They want you to do it from a wired computer.” Mr. Kraus added, “The state has invested in their app because it gives them the data directly. They are just now ramping up.”

The County is also working on some sort of survey. It wasn't explained what it does, why it is necessary, or what value it adds to the state-requested information.

Tourist Development Council Director Paula Vann prepared an advertising budget and presented it.

It was a vague budget without any supporting information.

There was discussion about using the County website to guide folks to the survey.

Mr. Kraus said the County would put a banner across County’s homepage directing folks to the survey.

Committee member Noah Walker, an advertising professional, warned, “If you have thirty different things for people to do, you will turn them right off.”

Commissioner Witt said the County knows the data it wants. “Let’s start with our landing page and link the state’s app to our landing page.”

Commissioner Witt made the case that social media was the way to go. The County has no social media page.

Commissioner Witt, a strong proponent of social media, said, “If they don’t have a social media page, I don’t see it…The point is to get as many people as possible to take the survey. It is a 90-day campaign.”

The Campaign

The County is developing its own set of questions. Former County Manager Dale Williams asked what the County’s questions were.

Ms. Vann answered, “We don’t have them here.”

Commissioner Witt said, “This is the most important step.”

The Columbia County School District

Mr. Kraus shared a previous discussion, “We also talked about contacting the school district to see if they would pass stuff out to the parents.”

Your reporter said, “You have a school district with about 10,000 students. That means you have about 10,000 little messengers and big messengers. I don’t see anything to promote this to the school district – nobody spoke to the superintendent?

Ms. Vann said, “That is something we could discuss with them for sure. We did not put them in the [advertising] cost because we were trying to find the cheapest-fastest way to get to everyone.”

Committee member Dale Tompkins said the district would help.

Ms. Vann said the district would not.

Dale Williams said, “You have to try. Whether they blow it or not…."

Commissioner Witt said there were several educators at the first meeting.

Dale Williams asked, “Where are they at?”

County Manager Kraus answered, “I don’t know. We’re going to have to reach out to Lex [Superintendent of Schools Lex Carswell] and tell him, ‘Your people aren’t showing up.’”

Dale Williams added, “There is a reason the state said they need to be on the planning team.”

Commissioner said, “We put 20 people on this with the hope ten would show up.”

Your reporter asked, “Is anybody from Florida Gateway College involved?”

Commissioner Witt answered, “I put out an open invitation to anybody that would be interested in being on the Committee.


The Observer reached out to Florida Gateway College President Larry Barrett after yesterday's meeting. He sent a message that he would call.

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