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Campbell supervisors hear updates on broadband expansion efforts

Campbell supervisors hear updates on broadband expansion efforts

Fulfilling a promise made earlier this year, internet access is coming to the New Chapel area in Campbell County within the next two months, and other underserved areas can expect to see increases in broadband access in the coming weeks.

A longtime priority of the Campbell County Board of Supervisors, the push to expand broadband took on greater urgency as the pandemic forced remote learning and more telework, and a stringent deadline on CARES Act funding fast approaches in December.

Of the about $9.5 million received by the county from the CARES Act — the $2 trillion federal relief package passed in the wake of the economic crisis caused by the coronavirus pandemic — County Administrator Frank Rogers said about $2.5 million is allocated for broadband expansion.

At its Tuesday meeting, the Campbell County Broadband Authority heard an update from Brian Byrd, a government and community affairs specialist with the telecommunications firm Shentel. The authority partnered with Shentel in May to expand service into three areas of the county — Lawyers Road, Arrington Drive and New Chapel Road in Rustburg.

Currently, construction is nearing completion in the New Chapel area, bringing internet access to more than 300 homes. Byrd said Shentel has 100 customers already signed up and anticipates beginning installations within the next two weeks.

“Working with the county has been a very good experience, and we’ve been able to get a lot done in a short amount of time, which is especially pressing right now with all of the quarantine/stay-at-home orders we’re facing,” Byrd said.

This expansion cost the county about $525,000, and Byrd said Shentel and county staff also are waiting for a response to the county’s recently submitted Virginia Telecommunication Initiative (VATI) grant application — seeking funds to extend service to Arrington Road, Lawyers Road, London Terrace and Mansion Bridge.

The application requests about $736,800 of VATI funding, with a $245,600 match from Shentel.

According to the application, the areas chosen are places where county residents have reached out on numerous occasions seeking broadband.

All told, the project area encompasses over 207 homes and 20 lots. VATI awards will be announced by the end of the year, and if awarded, there is an 18-month timeframe for the projects to be completed.

Also on Tuesday, supervisors heard an update from B2X Online, a Salem-based internet provider they partnered with earlier this year.

In August, supervisors approved B2X Online’s $1.4 million proposal to install wireless internet transmitters with the potential to provide more than 1,400 county residents with internet access.

Warren Kane, CEO of B2X, said towers in Johnson Mountain and Red House areas were “turned on and running,” ready to begin installations into residents’ homes.

B2X currently is targeting about half a dozen other areas, including Evington, Brookneal and Concord. He said the Concord tower is being worked on next, and they should be ready for installations by the end of the month.

The county’s third broadband effort — costing about $60,000 of the CARES Act funds — is a county-wide fiber-to-the-home engineering study from RiverStreet Networks. Rogers said he expects a rough draft of the study within the next 30 days.

The completed study would place the county in a stronger position to receive grant money and federal dollars for broadband expansion. Rogers said it would not only allow them to apply for more programs, but would offer a foundation for future solicitation from private providers.

“Your efforts thus far have been making good progress, and they’re moving on all three fronts,” Rogers said.

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