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Patchwork fix in place but tax office still plagued by connectivity issues

As of 11 a.m. Monday, the internet connection at the Lamar County tax commissioner’s office is back up and running through a patchwork arrangement. It will take two more weeks to reach full connectivity. ”We are able to serve our citizens again but it is still very slow and we ask for more patience. We have no credit card machines or e-mail so customers have to bring a check or cash,” tax commissioner Andrea Anthony reported Tuesday morning. An IT team was busy at the tax commissioner’s office Monday working to fix an internet connectivity outage that had stretched to 10 days. A lightning strike wreaked havoc with the patchwork system at the office on Hwy. 36 West. The subsequent chain of unfortunate events points out the critical lack of broadband access in rural areas. The tax office was initially built for the county water authority. At that time, it had DSL service. When the tax office moved there, the county attempted to reinstate DSL only to be told by AT&T that the circuit was full and no service was available. Residents all over the county have heard the same song and dance. So, the county erected a tower at the tax office and beams its Charter Spectrum service from the administration building on Thomaston St. to a radio repeater on Hog Mountain and then to the tower to serve the tax office. The same transmission also serves parts of the courthouse. ’˜We have to use the repeater on the mountain because it is a line-of-sight transmission,’ commission chairman Charles Glass said. Then, lightning struck – literally- during a storm June 8. At first it was thought the secure router in the building was the only thing damaged. When that was fixed, it was learned the radio receiver on top of the tower had been struck. Further along, it became apparent that the T-1 line provided by the state for secure connections was also fried. Thus far, Charter and AT&T have been of little help. Charter wanted $16,000 to run fibre optic cable to the tax office and charge about $1400 a month for access though it has buried fibre optic cable just across the highway and the railroad tracks that parallel it. The county declined. As a stopgap move, they attempted to use cell-based transmissions from Verizon. County manager Bob Zellner has looked into multiple solutions both long- and short-term. ‘It is very frustrating. It really points out the need to boost rural broadband access,’ Zellner said. ’Moving that office out there is the worst thing we have ever done,’ commissioner Nancy Thrash added. Tax commissioner Andrea Anthony was equally frustrated but denied multiple reports she had closed her office. ’We did close Thursday for training at the library that was already scheduled but we came back out here and got messages. There is little we can do so we put a note on the door and directed people to the drive through and gave out letters to those seeking tag decals explaining the situation in case they get stopped. I’m not an IT person. I am praying it gets fixed soon because we are dead in the water,’ Anthony said Friday.

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