Final hurdle cleared, broadband project to move forward

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By Taylor Boyd

The Patrick County Broadband Committee secured the final easement needed to proceed with the upgrade project.

At an Aug. 5 meeting of the Patrick County Board of Supervisors, County Attorney Alan Black said the project had been granted an easement to an area at the top of Bull Mountain – the last area needed before the project could begin.

Patrick County Economic Development Authority (EDA) Director Bryce Simmons said the contract for the easement is expected to be signed Aug. 17 supervisors meeting, with construction to begin soon after.

“Having a strong internet connection will help the county,” Simmons said, adding that “internet is shown to be the means of quickest employment at the cheapest cost. The broadband project will help promote economic growth to the area as it is an essential part of everyday life and has grown to be one of the main utilities people need.”

There are two-phases of the project, with the first beginning with the construction in the Bull Mountain area. This area was selected by the broadband committee because of its central location in the county, which will allow for it to be built out using preexisting towers.

Phase 1 will focus on the building of a fixed structure that will be connected to fiber lines that will provide service and focus primarily on connecting the Woolwine, Patrick Springs, and Meadows of Dan areas to the fixed structure at Bull Mountain.

Those areas, Simmons said, “are considered unserved areas by the Federal Communications Commissions (FCC) as they are not able to meet the broadband speeds.”

The initial phase is expected to be completed within a year of beginning construction.

Phase 2 is an extension of Phase 1, according to Simmons.

“Phase 2 will focus on the southern parts of the county such as the Claudville and Ararat areas,” he said and added that “we want to be able to link fiber lines directly to the homes to increase the internet speeds.”

The more rural areas of Meadows of Dan will be included in this phase, Simmons said. “We will focus on the less dense parts of the area in the second phase because it is so mountainous that it takes a lot of work to get over one hill just to have to go over the next one.”

Simmons said that before the second phase begins, an application is required with the state for funding. “The (FCC) has a record amount of funding this year, and we plan to pursue it,” said Simmons. So far, the broadband project has over $1,338,000 in funding, including a $798,000 grant from the Virginia Telecommunication Initiative (VATI) earlier this year and a total of $100,000 in local contributions.

Riverstreet Networks, the committee’s partner on the project, matched the local contribution, and has promised to provide $340,000 in donated equipment for the construction at Bull Mountain.

The project is designed to hook up 600 customers to the broadband network, and the company is  willing to potentially donate up to $400,000, with no promise of a local match, he said.

The private investment in the project is one reason why the committee decided to partner with the company on the project.

“They have experience in working in rural areas and understand how important broadband is to those areas,” Simmons said. Riverstreet Networks has a strong presence in nearby Stokes County and the city of Danville. It also has a strong history of working with fiber optics, while the other considered companies were strictly only wireless.

“We’ve heard great things about them from everyone we’ve talked to,” Simmons said, adding that the delays in the project, which was expected to begin in spring earlier this year, were due to COVID-19 shut down and “delaying the necessary paperwork and approval” for the project. He does not expect the pandemic to impact the construction in the Bull Mountain area.

 

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