By Taylor Boyd
Representatives of RiverStreet Networks presented an informational session about the county’s broadband plan to the Patrick County Board of Supervisors.
Rob Taylor of RiverStreet, said the company began working with the county on a wireless build out several months ago, and considering potentially building out fiber through the county.
“What we’ve done is just put together a broadband extension plan that talks about different aspects of service throughout the county and what it would take to build fiber throughout the county,” he said.
RiverStreet was able to bid on census blocks of the county during the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF) reverse auction.
Taylor said the company won 4,465 of the 5,825 available blocks in Patrick County, costing $5,418,447. Other census blocs were won by SpaceX and Charter Communications.
Based on information provided by the 2020 U.S. Census, 83 percent of all U.S. households and 84 percent of Virginia households have internet subscriptions.
“In Patrick County, there’s 68.3 percent. So, we have a digital gap there,” he said.
Taylor said broadband is defined by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) as being 25 megabits per second (mbps) for download, and three mbps for upload. Based on a map provided by the FCC, he said no provider in the county is doing what RiverStreet considers to be “true broadband, which is 100/100. I think you might have some out there at Primland, but not really anywhere else,” he said.
For the project, RiverStreet divided the county into seven service districts; each will have its own electronics. The districts also will be connected on a transport fiber, or a fiber ring.
“The reason we want to do a ring is if we go in there and we have someone cut that fiber, then the information will travel around the other direction, so you’ll have some resilience,” Taylor said.
From the fiber ring, RiverStreet plans to lay out different strand counts based on the Geographical Information System (GIS) provided by the county. The strand count for each mini-ring ranges from 288 to 12 strands to ensure that each location and every home in the county are being passed by fiber.
“This plan is a total fiber to the home build. It’s not fiber to the end of the street, it’s not fiber to Stuart, it’s fiber to the home,” Taylor said.
The project is expensive because the plan is based on putting the fiber lines in the ground to help prevent power outages caused by storm damage, he said.
“The number of lines to put in the ground is 1,426.5 miles of fiber that would need to be installed. That would pass 12,587 homes,” he said.
To get all the fiber lines to all of the fiber passes will cost $45 million, he said. To connect to all the homes in the county will cost around $72 million. If the plan excludes Stuart, a high-density area, and has a 100 percent connection rate, the cost is $67 million.
Taylor said RiverStreet would cover the connection costs of homes less than 2,000 feet from the road, and also would be an Internet Service Provider (ISP) after all of the lines are connected.
“If we build it, we want to be the ISP providing services on in, our current rate is 100/100 at $89 dollars, so your costs should go down” from current internet service costs, Taylor said.
The project is expected to take five years to complete once work officially begins to install the fiber lines.
Eric Cramer, President and CEO of RiverStreet, said he believes RiverStreet and Patrick County will hopefully have the funding lined up for Phase I of the project by this time next year. He added funding is available for broadband.
“When we first participated in VATI (Virginia Telecommunication Initiative) with Patrick County two years ago, they had $19 million. Last year they had $35 million. Beginning of this year, they had $50 million set aside for this year and $50 million set aside for next year,” he said.
Cramer said money from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) also can be used for broadband. Last Friday, Gov. Ralph Northam said he is going to ask for $700 million instead of $50 million for the state.
“What we want to try and do is take some of our funding, take some federal funding, take some money from the county and go to VATI and say, ‘here’s your plan, here’s what we want to build, here’s the funding we have, and here’s the funding we need from you,’” he said.
Cramer said while Phase I construction is going on, RiverStreet and the county will pursue funds for Phase II.
“The fact that this county has a plan, we now know what the cost is, and we need to go after the funding for it,” he added.
In other matters, the board:
*Approved the transfer of Patrick County Public School funds for July.
*Approved the refund of $33,412 to First Horizon’s Bank.
*Approved a resolution operating the preparations filing an application for community development grant.
*Heard questions and statements about the broadband project and Critical Race Theory (CRT) and transgender bathrooms in the county schools.
*Appointed Chandler McGravey of the Blue Ridge District, to the Tourism Advisory Council (TAC).
*Appointed David Lusk to the Economic Development Authority (EDA) to replace Pam Smith.