Halifax County (VA) residents are getting sick of living in a “technological desert,” with broadband service being less-than-adequate for the rural area, according to the Mecklenburg Sun.
According to Clay Stewart, chief operations officer of SCS Broadband, the wireless internet service provider (WISP) tasked with providing broadband internet to Halifax County residents, broadband internet takes many years to establish, especially in a rural area with a vast expanse and relatively small population. However, residents’ patience with building towers, and postponing the rollout of service is wearing thin, reported the Mecklenburg Sun.
“When did we need broadband? Yesterday,” said J.T. Davis, chair of the Halifax County Board of Supervisors’ broadband committee.
The Board of Supervisors is expected to ratify agreements tied to a $231,108 state grant, money that has been provided to Halifax County to install broadband network equipment on four tower locations. The grant issued by Virginia Telecommunications Initiative (VATI), covers four towers in Volens, Nathalie, Turbeville, and Virgilina, reported the Mecklenburg Sun. If ratified, this will be the second major grant Halifax County has received for high-speed rural broadband, even though the first phase, using a $206,206 Virginia Tobacco Commission grant plus $100,000 in seed money from the Board of Supervisors, has yet to begin.
However, once Phase I and Phase II are completed, a projected 3,305 homes and businesses will have access to broadband connectivity of up to 50 megabytes per second (Mbps). Per the VATI grant, towers need to be operational by June 3, 2020, reported the Mecklenburg Sun.
Phase I envisions the activation of six, 190-foot tall towers, but where the six towers will be located remains undecided as site availability has been an issue. Phase II predicts activation of four additional, 190-foot towers, which will bring the total number to ten. Along with the tower sites, the plan further calls for the addition of eight “community poles,” that will boost signals in neighborhood clusters.
Although the grant money is available for both phases, challenges have arisen, causing delays. According to Davis, SCS Broadband is a small company that is working with numerous counties around Virginia to provide rural broadband. He notes the company is understaffed but said it was the best partner suited to provide rural service.
Halifax officials have also encountered a greater need to lease private towers, which has its challenges. Cell phone companies own some of the towers, others are controlled by individual landowners, and it has taken time to negotiate rights to these facilities, which has prolonged the rollout, reported the Sun.
Another challenge has been the weather, with record rainfall. “It was the worst year in the world to get towers loaded. You usually get 103 or 104 rain days in a year. It was 178 in 2018,” Stewart said.
SCS has also run into delays due to the federal government shutdown at the end of 2018, spilling over into the start of 2019, according to Stewart. Once the shutdown was over, it took months for the FCC to begin clearing out a backlog of communication tower requests.
“Within a year from now I would anticipate all ten towers and eight community data poles are online,” said County Administrator Scott Simpson.
June 5, 2019