By Angela Jones
Broadband is an essential part of everyday life, affecting everything from economic development to real estate sales. And that makes providing faster internet service to rural communities a goal.
Floyd County will be among the few to realize that goal through a six-year, $35 million project between the county and Citizens Cooperative in a project that is scheduled to be completed by 2021, according to Steve Terry, chairman of Patrick County’s Broadband Committee.
But Terry said it is imperative to realize that Floyd did not position itself to obtain state-of-the-art broadband overnight. Rather, they have been spent years building the groundwork and obtaining grant funding for the project.
Terry said he has talked to Citizens Cooperative officials that include Greg Sapp, CEO and Dennis Reece, COO, “several times to glean advice and see if they would be receptive to serving additional customers in Patrick. They were very helpful and shared a lot of advice, but they have their hands full with financing and implementing this daunting project.”
Members of Patrick’s broadband committee, a volunteer group, are working to catch up, lay the groundwork and build the foundation that will ultimately provide faster, more reliable service to Patrick County.
To do that, the committee explores various options and meets with Internet Service Providers (ISPs) that serve customers in Patrick County, Terry said.
He added those meetings have yielded some results and there are a few possibilities to research. For instance, a research firm working to advance TV White Space broadband technology may be an alternative type of technology that can be used in some areas of the county, as well as Appalachian Power (APCo) and a middle-mile fiber program, he said.
House Bill 2691 will create a program under which APCo may submit a petition to the State Corporation Commission to provide or make available broadband capacity in areas that currently are underserved, according to Terry and Charles Vivier, who also serves on the Broadband Committee.
Under the new legislation, APCo would be permitted to overbuild capacity – beyond what the utility plans to install for their own purposes — and ISPs could lease the extra space to provide broadband services.
It is expected that APCo will partner Grayson County on the first pilot program, according to meeting minutes from the Broadband Committee.
APCo plans to submit initial project plans to the State Corporation Commission by July 1, which also marks the date the law goes into effect.
Although the broadband committee can recommend the APCo or any other project, Terry said county officials ultimately will decide whether to allow it to happen.
When first approached nearly a year ago to ask for help to obtain upgraded broadband, Terry recalled one member of the Patrick County Board of Supervisors nixed the idea and said, “it ain’t going to happen because it is too expensive.”
The Broadband Committee has since worked to publicize the impact of less than adequate service on rural areas. It also researches broadband improvement grants and routinely seeks expert speakers to share the ways in which broadband is essential to rural counties.
“We hasten the day when the county partners with an ISP and begins applying for improvement grants,” Terry said. “We believe it is helpful for citizens to keep discussing this with their supervisors and to consider the support he or she provides when you chose your next representative.”
The committee, which also works with the Town of Stuart, is tentatively scheduled to hold its next meeting on June 11 at 6 p.m., in the second-floor conference room of the Patrick County Veterans Memorial Building. Meetings are open to the public.
Representatives of B2Xonline, a Wireless Internet Service Provider, are tentatively set to attend the June 19 Stuart Town Council meeting, which begins at 7 p.m. in the town offices on Patrick Avenue.