By Terry Harris
Last Friday, Nov. 4, Surry County Administrator Melissa Rollins participated in the 2021 Governor’s Summit on Rural Prosperity at Longwood University as a panelist on Successful Broadband Partnerships.
On the panel, moderated by Tamarah Holmes, Ph.D., Director of Broadband, Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development, Rollins was joined by The Honorable Jennifer Boysko, State Senator and Chair of the Virginia Broadband Advisory Council, Rich Schollmann, Executive Director, VA Telecommunication Industry Association (VATI), and Ken McFadyen, Botetourt County Director of Economic Development.
Rollins said that she was invited to participate in what was billed as a “Discussion surrounding how rural Virginia counties are achieving universal broadband coverage and the innovative strategies that were implemented” by the Department of Housing and Community Development because of the success of Surry County’s unrelenting drive over more than a decade to provide broadband access throughout the county.
Afterward, Rollins said of the experience, “It was great! It really was. It was a good experience – an opportunity to engage with folks interested in hearing about our broadband initiative and how we were able to leverage the partnership with PGEC to get universal coverage in the county.”
“Broadband has been the number one priority in Surry County for over a decade,” she added, “and without the dedication and commitment of our Board of Supervisors it would have been an impossibility. Supervisor Judy Lyttle has fought tirelessly for this for many years, and the entire board’s choosing to provide the $2.2 million county dollars to match the VATI grant made it possible for us finally to make universal broadband happen in Surry County.”
Explaining how the successful project came about, Rollins said, “After the VATI grant was applied for in January of 2020, PGEC had 18 months to get a certain number of homes done and they achieved that. And we honestly would not have been able to achieve this without their partnership and willingness to come here with the ISP, and Dominion serving as the middle mile. “
“Right now we have 830 homes actually connected,” she continued, “and of that number there are 85 Dominion customers – which PGEC also connected. So it truly is a real and unusual partnership. And we went from only 10 % coverage of broadband until now we’ll have 100 percent availability to any home or business in the county that wants it.”
“Lack of broadband has contributed to our decline of citizenship,” Rollins said, “And it was game-changing to have the board willing to commit so much money to the project.
“I had not participated in a panel before, and it was an exciting and gratifying experience to be able to speak on behalf of the Board of Supervisors and for the citizens of Surry County,” she continued. “It was gratifying to be able to explain our success and how we arrived at it – to share that with interested people across the state who are dealing with the same challenges we were. You could tell by the questions that came after the panel spoke that the audience was very engaged and interested in knowing our success story, as the summit brings a lot of leaders from communities across the state.”