By Steve Terry
The contract for our grant has been signed by the county and returned to the state, so the funds should be released in the next few days. Work is underway on securing right of way agreements and other preliminary details. You can expect more announcements and updates soon as final design and upgrades begin for the Patrick Springs, Woolwine, and Meadows of Dan areas.
With the $1.3 million first phase of our county broadband upgrades kicking off, we have accomplished a lot. We have some even bigger and exciting news concerning upgrades for other unserved areas of the county to share. Areas are deemed unserved if available service has maximum speeds below 25 Mbps which is a large part of the county.
The U.S. FCC Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF) has identified the unserved areas eligible for funding and has reserved $20 million intended to serve over 5,800 locations in the county. You read that right, twenty million dollars. RiverStreet, the county’s ISP partner, plans to bid for these funds in the RDOF auction on Oct. 22. They hope to be awarded around $14 million and will contribute significant company funds to what the FCC provides. Over a six-year period, they would install a fiber optic cable system and would be required to serve at least 95% of the homes and businesses included in their bid. The only money the county will have to contribute is $50,000 for an engineering study and plan to provide details on the design and cost for the system. The engineering plan is a requirement for the FCC auction, and we must pay half of the cost by the end of May and half in September upon completion of the plan. This is the best chance, maybe the only chance the county may ever have to obtain a FTTH broadband system designed to provide state of the art service for many decades.
The county is struggling to come up with a workable budget and must cut spending. This opportunity is so critical to the county that several individuals have discussed a campaign to raise the cost of the above plan from local businesses and individuals. This has been discussed with members of the Board of Supervisors and the county attorney, Allen Black. He advised that citizens acting as individuals can work to raise these funds and suggested a Go Fund Me Site be set up. We are working on this and expect to have details out within a week. Times are difficult, but some of us can remember when at times our parents packed our lunches when they had difficulty paying the $.25 cost of school lunch, but somehow they helped to fund our hospital. We can, we must raise these funds.
(Terry serves as chairman of the Patrick County Broadband Committee)