High-speed internet comes to rural Stokes County via Wi-Fi

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STOKES COUNTY, N.C. — Tabatha Points knows about the struggles of getting high-speed internet for her family and neighbors.

“I know with COVID-19 going on and virtual learning, some families are having to pack up their kids and go to free hotspots just so their kids can do their school work,” she said.

Her husband works from home, and her daughters are attending school virtually from home. The family lives in a rural area of the county that only has two options for high speed: satellite internet with data caps and high monthly payments or pay to have a mile of cable run to their house.

“[The cable company] quoted me the small sticker price of $100,000,” she said. “That conversation was very short lived.”

But now high-speed Wi-Fi, a direct signal from a small local company atop Sauratown Mountain, is helping her family make the connection.

“The need is there,” said Todd Lankford, who started Stokes WiFi seven years ago. “This is the most cost-effective way to bring high-speed internet to the county. It’s strictly a line of sight right now but we are working on getting some more towers put up.”

Lankford can currently reach any resident within 15 miles directly from the tower but the plans are in the works to go beyond the current limit.

“It’s one of the biggest complaints the commissioners receive,” said Andy Nickelston, a county commissioner and businessman.

He says previous county leaders tried to get high speed to rural parts of the area. The county spent $1.8 million to financially help support extending fiber to more residents, but those companies have made little progress. Nickelston says waiting on more grants or tax dollars just takes too long when the need is now.

“We aren’t waiting around for grants, that’s why we are paying for it out of our own pocket,” he said.

He is teaming up with several business owners to put up between $600,000 and $700,000 to partner with Lankford’s Stokes WiFi and expand high speed quickly through the air.

“It’s not about getting out there to compete with anybody,” he said. “We’re just trying to get service to everybody.”

In the next eight to 12 months they hope to have more towers throughout the county that could even expand into neighboring communities and southern Virginia.

“It’s the fastest and cheapest way to get the job done,” Nickelston said. “It’s reliable.”

The cost for unlimited service is expected to be around $60 monthly. Visit stokeswifi.com to learn more.

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