“The Stars Are Finally Aligning” for Hybrid Rural Broadband Network

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Franklin County, VA was awarded a $650,000 grant from the Tobacco Region Revitalization Commission’s Last Mile Broadband Program, reported the Roanoke Times. The grant will help to fund six, rural broadband projects that will serve a business park and several residential areas. The project will include 29 miles of fiber making service available to 615 homes and nearly 100 non-residential premises. Franklin County is partnering with local provider Shentel on four of the six grant-supported projects.

The grant marks the first significant broadband development in Franklin County, and Gov. Ralph Northam visited the town last Thursday to applaud efforts. One of Northam’s top priorities is to expand broadband coverage to all Virginians within a decade. “We’ve got to do everything we can to lift up rural Virginia,” Northam said. “And the one thing I hear every day is we need universal broadband.”

The state has ramped up it’s funding for broadband projects, from $4 million to $19 million, through the Virginia Telecommunications Initiative, according to the Times. Though Northam initially sought $50 million, he said the nearly five-fold increase would have a great impact, subsidizing construction costs and providing last-mile services to unserved areas.

To continue with efforts in Franklin County, the broadband authority, created in 2017, voted last week to move forward with proposals from Blue Ridge Towers and Point Broadband. Per the counties’ consultant, Design Nine’s master broadband plan, a “hybrid approach” should be employed, including fiber to the home or business and also fixed point wireless, which relies on towers.

Franklin County’s broadband struggles are two-fold, said Steve Sandy, director of planning and community development. There are some with no service and those with inadequate service, and residents have voiced a desire for better service, he said.

The county is focused on public-private partnerships to make broadband for all a reality. “That’s really what we’re after, is making projects come to fruition quicker and making projects that maybe didn’t make total economic sense before, make them more feasible,” Sandy said.

July 24, 2019

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