Surry fails to receive key broadband grant funding from state

By Michael Campbell, News Editor
March 29, 2017 | 1:50 p.m.

SURRY – After months of waiting for a decision from the Commonwealth, it’s been revealed that Surry County and its contracted broadband internet provider will not be receiving grant funding that would’ve helped further along the county’s ongoing internet project.

Wednesday, Governor Terry McAuliffe announced five localities will receive nearly $945,000 in Virginia telecommunications grants through the Virginia Telecommunications Initiative, or VATI, to help expand broadband access in their communities and around the commonwealth, with Surry notably absent from the list of successful grantees.

Albemarle, Augusta, Bland, Gloucester, and Greensville counties will receive a combined total of $944,849 as part of 2017 VATI funding, with the governor’s office stating that the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development “will award nearly $1 million annually” to eligible applicants to help provide last-mile broadband services to the state’s underserved areas.

For Surry, the county is among the 12 applications that were not accepted, with Virginia DHCD officials stating 17 applicants submitted projects totaling “more than $3.7 million” in funding to the agency, with the five winning projects selected being chosen through “a competitive process evaluating each project for a demonstrated need and benefit for the community, applicant readiness and capacity, and the cost and leverage of the proposed project.”

Additionally, funding for the projects through the grant was awarded based on “the infrastructure needs in the project areas,” officials explained.

In February, Surry Planning Director Rhonda Russell spoke to the Surry Board of Supervisors about the grant, telling leaders that they were in a holding pattern as they awaited the state’s decision, with the governor’s award announcement having been tentatively scheduled for sometime in January.

According to Russell, the county and service provider SCS Broadband came together to apply for the VATI grant in an effort to receive over $60,000 in funding to “provide financial assistance to supplement construction costs by private sector broadband service providers to extend service to areas that presently are unserved.”

As part of the grant, SCS Broadband planned to use the funding to build a “last-mile wireless network built on the latest LTE fixed service technology,” with the proposed network able to provide speeds of 50Mbps for home broadband customers.

A budget narrative for the application submitted to Virginia DHCD explained that approximately $75,000 of the $117,000 in the project would have covered material and labor costs, “not including tower leases and fiber backhaul, which is being provided by SCS Broadband and Surry County.”

Those documents also note that SCS will lease “substantial fiber backhaul” for deployment of service utilizing a pair of towers, one owned by the county and a second one contracted by SCS Broadband, to cover the installation of the 4G LTE system, with a value of $22,000 annually.

Russell went on to tell supervisors during February’s regular meeting in the event that the county did not receive the state-level grant funding, SCS would utilize Wi-Fi for broadband service deployment to Surry customers, but, in an interview later Wednesday, she said that the county is, instead, continuing its negotiations with SCS Broadband to work on the deployment of the LTE network, which is a more modern technology, as opposed to the older Wi-Fi-based service model.

“We are certainly disappointed,” she said, noting that other communities in the network that were seeking funding through the VATI grant, Charles City and Dinwiddie, were also absent from the governor’s announcement Wednesday morning.

She added that it is unlikely that the county will wait for the 2018 VATI funding cycle, wanting to move forward with getting the multi-year broadband internet project closer to completion, with the ultimate goal of providing residents, businesses and county facilities with high-speed internet services across Surry.

Copyright 2017 by Womack Publishing

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