By Taylor Boyd
Patrick County’s dream of having better and quicker broadband is close to becoming reality when Gov. Ralph Northam’s announced that new grants have been awarded to advance universal access to broadband throughout Virginia.
Through the collaboration of the West Piedmont Planning District Commission (WPPDC) and RiverStreet Networks, $33,571,073 was awarded. This is in addition to the $61,794,113 leveraged for a $95,365,186 project that will build fiber broadband to 10,056 unserved locations and achieve universal coverage in Franklin, Henry, and Patrick counties when combined with other projects.
The project between the WWPDC and Charter Communications., Inc. was awarded $1,415,290 with a leveraged $2,124,671 for a $3,539,961 project to build fiber broadband to 690 unserved locations and achieve universal coverage in Patrick County when combined with other projects.
The announcement that included more than $722 million to provide universal broadband infrastructure in 70 localities and effectively close 90 percent of Virginia’s digital divide, are like the fairy godmother waving her wand, except the county will be getting broadband, according to Steve Terry, of the Patrick County Broadband Committee.
“It’s incredible, we had no dream when we started this” of reaching this point, he said.
Funding began earlier this year, after the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) held a Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF) auction for companies to bid on areas for service expansion.
“Sections of Patrick County were awarded to three vendors,” Terry said. “RiverStreet got a bunch, Charter Communications got some areas, and some areas were awarded to SpaceX (Space Exploration Technologies Corporation) for when satellite becomes available.”
Because some areas were not eligible for auction due to errors with the FCC’s mapping system, Terry said some areas of the county were left out.
“So, that’s what these two grants that we just got are to do; to go in there and bring fiber to the home to additional places that were not included in the FCC auction,” he said.
Areas won by SpaceX during the RDOF auction also were eligible for the grants because Virginia did not consider the company to have a long-established track record or viable business plan for quick broadband installation, he said.
“So, both Charter and RiverStreet went after areas they were interested in with these two supplemental grants. Between all of this, that should provide county-wide fiber to the home, not fixed wireless, but it will be cable to the homes,” Terry said, and added the project would not have happened without help from the WPPDC.
“They did the legwork for the counties. Numbers were being put tougher in the last few days and hard work was going on to get this pulled together to meet the application deadline,” he said, adding applying and getting the grants was a “moonshot” for the county.
Northam said the COVID-19 pandemic highlighted the need for swift action to extend high-speed internet access across Virginia.
“Broadband access impacts every facet of our daily lives, from education to business to healthcare. It’s a necessity for navigating today’s digital world, and this new funding will close Virginia’s digital divide with universal broadband by 2024,” he said.
“Virginia and the VATI (Virginia Telecommunication Initiative) program continue to be the national model for closing the digital gap. This round of grants will connect more than 278,550 households/businesses to high-speed internet, ensuring more communities across the Commonwealth have access to the necessities of modern life,” Secretary of Commerce and Trade Brian Ball said.