• Chamber of Commerce has a plan to address Newport County's internet problem

    Chamber of Commerce has a plan to address Newport County's internet problem


    Newport Daily News | NewportRI.com
    Savana Dunning May 17, 2021
    Read the original article here.
     

    NEWPORT — After listening to local concerns over internet inaccessibility, the Greater Newport Chamber of Commerce is moving forward with an initiative that could result in better internet access for Newport County.

    “It really grew out of the fact that when COVID hit, so many more people were reliant on broadband, for education and work, but also telehealth and so forth, so it became even larger and a little bit more obvious of a problem,” Chamber Executive Director Erin Donovan-Boyle said.

     

    The chamber established a broadband coalition to figure out ways to address this issue, eventually creating a Request for Proposals to communications and technology firms that coils examine the broadband issue across Aquidneck Island and come up with solutions. 

    The initial push toward this decision happened through the Chamber’s regional economic development division, Connect Greater Newport, which surveyed and interviewed local businesses to identify the issues facing the local economy. Access to affordable broadband internet emerged as one of the main priorities.
    “As we were going through that process, a lot of the conversations were around, ‘Hey, how's business going, what is hindering growth, what is going well,’ all of the things, and what kept popping up as one of the issues that needed to be addressed in the top three was access and affordability to broadband,” Donovan-Boyle said. “There had been some rumblings of that prior to, but now we have the data and the documentation to understand that we needed to get more information and figure out what's going on.”

    Funded by the van Bueren Foundation, the RFP specifically asks for a firm that can make a map to show broadband accessibility throughout Newport and Bristol County and to provide potential technology solutions, whether they build off existing networks or create new ones through the city. The map would also be used by regional and state leaders to analyze ways to improve internet connection in areas where there are gaps.

    The chamber closed the bidding process for the RFP last week and received two bids, one of which will be rewarded the money to create the map. Donovan-Boyle said interviews will be done by the end of this week, and potentially a decision will be made, but would not share the names of the two companies being considered.

    “At the end of the project, we'll have a very good understanding of the issues and proposed solutions, and have some shovel ready projects that will be able to be teed up for the stimulus dollars and infrastructure dollars that will be coming into the state, or at least eligible at the federal level to address broadband issues,” Donovan-Boyle said.

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