After much discussion, the Patrick County Board of Supervisors unanimously voted to eliminate the Broadband Committee at its reorganizational meeting on January 8.
The minutes from the committee’s first meeting are dated Jan. 8, 2019.
“In the beginning, they did a lot,” Brandon Simmons said of the committee. “They achieved a lot by getting awareness and getting things rolling with broadband in Patrick County. They did a great job.”
Committee members Roger Hayden, John Pendleton, David Stanley, Charles Vivier, Steve Terry – who served as chairman, and W. Brad Davis, worked to find funding and identify ways to provide broadband After the committee’s success last year – it helped to secure funding for projects with providers RiverStreet Networks (RSN) and Charter-Spectrum, in partnership with Appalachian Power (APCo) – Simmons, who was selected as board chairman at the meeting, asked for input from County Administrator Beth Simms about the committee’s current role.
“It’s my understanding that the broadband stuff is pretty much through West Piedmont Planning District now, and everything is kind of on paper. Moving forward, we meet with” the planning district and contractors monthly, Simms said of the meetings that serve as progress reports on the projects.
“There’s not really any additional work that we foresee” for the committee, Simms said. She also had discussed the issue with West Piedmont, and learned “there is no role for the committee at this time.”
But, she noted, that “doesn’t mean it couldn’t come back up … say something doesn’t happen, or we need to apply for more funding or something. “Currently, it seems that all of the boxes have been checked on broadband, it’s just the work being done by the contractors, the internet services providers, and all of them.”
After learning of the board’s action, Davis wrote an email to several committee members: “All – it was a real pleasure working with you all on this critically important Patrick County initiative. The ball was moved further down the field than it would have been without the committee’s efforts, particularly those heroic efforts of our Chairman!”
“I’ll echo what Brad has written,” Vivier wrote. “Stop and think about all the transitions and developments since the Committee was formed: EDA directors, liaison Supervisors, other Supervisors, County Administrators, WPDPC, Richmond, and the big ones, namely the ‘money coming down the pike,’ and all the players (providers) that came out of the woodwork.”
Vivier added that Terry “tried to stay on top of all this even after” a serious health issue. “His efforts were always underlined with the question ‘Hey, WHATSUP?’”
Vivier wonders whether the board “did what’s best by starting with the committee but NOT transitioning to a new and permanent department. Broadband is a utility,” he wrote, “and a service like other communications and multimedia.
“Hopefully the better players will rise to the top. Granted that the utilities, the SCC, legislators, etc., have work cut out for them to make this happen to improve our future,” Vivier wrote. “It has been an honor for me to serve the county and a pleasure to participate when I did. I do think that the efforts of the committee helped to put us at the forefront in many ways.”
“My humble opinion is if we hadn’t had that broadband committee, we wouldn’t be where we are today,” Clayton Kendrick, of the Mayo River District, wrote. “All of y’all did excellent work and should be commended for it. I thank you all very much.”
“Sad to see this get disbanded,” Pendleton wrote. “I agree that this committee really got the ball rolling again on broadband in the county.” He added that Terry “should get all the praise for his dedication and the countless hours he put into broadband.”
“I really appreciate the compliments, but we all were a dedicated team, and each made a big impact,” Terry wrote. “I was fortunate to be retired, which allowed me more time than some others, but no one would have given me the time of day without knowing we were a team appointed by the board.
“The fact that the (then) board at times chose to ignore us did not keep us from working with a lot of people behind the scenes to push and pull the county along. When it seemed the projects were safely funded, and that RSN and Charter had committed to completing the projects with or without anyone in the county exerting much effort, I redirected my diminishing energy,” Terry wrote and recalled that he discussed the projects at the October supervisor meeting, which also was attended by representatives from RSN and APCo.
Considering the importance of coverage, Terry wrote, “I could not believe that only a couple of citizens were there attempting to ask questions. But just as well the (board) had not planned for the public to ask questions and when they allowed a couple, although my hand was up. I was ignored.”
He added that the October board also “ignored my suggestions in my presentation, mainly that Charter be invited to make a similar presentation” as RSN, and that updates were provided on both projects, including a timeline of when service will be available.
Terry said he has spoken with Patrick Cooper, the new director of economic development, and “dropped in a few times hoping to speak briefly with Ms. Simms, but she was not in.” As a result, he added that he was unable to “gauge her commitment to broadband.”
Highlighting continued concerns that include RSN’s discovery of some coverage gaps and the mention of seeking additional grant funding, Terry said “I have not found out anything more. I don’t know how citizens can confirm if they are included in funded projects.”
Additionally, “Charter stated mid-summer they would initiate construction in July 2023, but to my knowledge work has not begun. They continue to make optimistic comments, but the extensive ongoing delay is not reassuring.”
Still, “it appears that most of the county has a high probability of excellent service in the next 1-2 years. I have enjoyed working with each of you, and maybe we will get together to celebrate soon,” Terry wrote.