Effort underway to upgrade, improve connectivity

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    A grassroots effort is underway in Meadows of Dan to identify funding sources and potential revenue streams for a project to update infrastructure and improve connectivity.

    Steve Terry and Charles Vivier, representatives of the group involved in the effort, addressed the Patrick County Board of Supervisors at a recent meeting.

    Terry explained the group is asking the county for support, but is not asking for monetary support.

    Rather the group is seeking out other funding streams that may be available through the Virginia Tobacco Region Revitalization Commission, internet service providers, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and other potential revenue sources to update infrastructure and improve connectivity. (Full story on page 16)

    The existing internet service “barely works, but it’s a far cry from not having any. Here lately, it’s like not having any,” Terry said.

    He said residents are promised speeds up to 1.5 megabits per second, but actual speeds lag and are often as low as .1 or .2 megabytes. Terry said he was unable to even file his taxes online. He noted online banking also is an issue.

    “Our people want to work from home, take college classes, our school kids want to work on their Chromebooks,” he said.

    The lack of adequate connectivity also impacts the business sector because many businesses require high speed internet. It also has the potential to impact real estate values, he said.

    “The future is here today,” Vivier said. He noted that while an upgrade in mid-2000 provided faster and more reliable service in some of the 694 and 251 telephone exchanges, “we’ve stopped” making strides in the years that followed. “We think we can pick up the ball and run with it.”

    Terry noted that other localities, including Floyd County, have received funding for upgraded infrastructure. Additionally, the Virginia Tobacco Region Revitalization Commission recently approved nine funding requests for broadband expansion projects in southern and southwest Virginia.

    The approved projects will result in broadband becoming available for more than 31,000 homes and businesses by providing high-quality internet access.

    Patrick County was not among those localities funded.

    Local officials have said the county did not seek any of those grants.

    “We’re not here to be adversarial,” point fingers or blame anyone, Terry said. However, “our county is behind. Frankly, I think we’ve let some trains leave the station. We’re going to have to jump on and look at the last mile as being the last person.”

    Jane Scales Fulk, of the Dan River District, said she also struggles with connectivity issues. Fulk said she supports the effort and thinks anyone who has a telephone line should have access to the internet.

    Rickie Fulcher, vice chairman and of the Peters Creek District, said that although he lives in Patrick Springs, he sometimes still experiences connectivity issues.

    “I applaud you for getting this group together,” Fulcher said.

    Karl Weiss, of the Blue Ridge District and Crystal Harris, of the Smith River District, both said they supported the effort.

    Weiss said he looks forward to working with the group “to try and get this done.”

    “I too feel your pain. We really do need this in the county,” Harris said.

    Lock Boyce, chairman and of the Mayo River District, said Patrick County “is actually pretty fortunate.” He explained the locality was part of a test in 2005-06. Then, the federal government gave the Centel Telephone Company “a huge amount of money” for a feasibility study. Some of the funds were used to build infrastructure.

    “Because of that, we enjoy at least the infrastructure for high speed internet.” Boyce said, and noted the two things voters most want are paved roads and high speed internet.

    But, “I can’t help you and these guys here can’t help you,” he said of fellow his supervisors. “We’re not going to invest tax dollars to do it.”

    Additionally, service providers “are not interested in extending several miles of internet service to (provide adequate service) to one house living at the end of the bunny trail somewhere,” Boyce said. Even if a “bunch of two-bit politicians are up here promising you pie in the sky, it ain’t going to happen.”

    “To clear things up, no one supervisor should sit up here and say” they represent the entire board, Weiss said, and noted Boyce did not represent him.

    Weiss reiterated what Terry and Vivier had said early on – that they are not seeking money for the project from the county. Therefore, local tax dollars were not an issue.

    “Don’t paint it as a gloom picture and not feasible,” Vivier said to Boyce. “It is feasible.”

    “We’re sure as heck not going to get anywhere if we don’t try, and we’re sure as heck going to try,” Terry said, and reiterated the request for board support of the project.

    After that, Boyce said “you’ve got this board’s support.”