The Rappahannock County Broadband Authority met Monday (June 21) to finalize the details of a request for information (RFI) directed at local internet service providers. The authority is seeking partnerships to apply for state funding to improve the county’s broadband infrastructure.
The authority will send providers the RFI by June 23, and providers will have until July 8 to respond. In order to receive state funding for this initiative, the authority must submit a notice of application to the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development by the July 27 deadline.
While the RFI is not an official purchase of services, it will identify interest from internet service providers.
According to the county’s request, “The need for such a partnership overtly recognizes that the density of housing units in Rappahannock County is generally considered too sparse to support broadband deployment using only typically available commercial investments.”
Interested companies will have to identify areas within the county that are already served by an existing internet provider as well as the type of internet connection that currently exists and the users who are receiving adequate service or are in an underserved area. The result will be a detailed map of broadband coverage in the county, which the authority said could take a few years to develop.
Internet providers will also be required to send photos of the equipment their proposed plan intends to use, which includes internet towers. Providers may also send proprietary information that they wish to not be disclosed by the authority.
The request will also seek information to identify which areas of the county are considered to be unserved or underserved, and which areas already have broadband infrastructure in place. This will help the authority to determine which areas will qualify for outside grants and funding.
Moreover, the request will ask internet service providers to detail their current broadband services and their locations, the technology proposed to to deliver universal broadband, a list of support needed from the authority to carry out the desired outcome and evidence of financial capacity to achieve the desired outcome.
Only companies that use terrestrial internet technologies — like fiber optic or wireless internet towers — will be eligible for the partnership, as satellite services don’t qualify as broadband under Virginia’s current rules. The county has stated that in order for the authority to reach its broadband goals, the installation of optical fibers to various properties will likely be required. The county currently lacks adequate broadband, with 68 percent of respondents to a 2020 survey of Rappahannock County Public School families reporting unreliable access or no access at all.
The authority states in the RFI that their desired goal is to reach broadband speeds of 100 mbps download and 100 mbps upload — the speed requirements outlined in the American Rescue Plan Act. Rappahannock County will receive approximately $1.4 million from the American Rescue Plan Act — some of which may be leveraged by the authority to use toward expanding broadband.
During the Monday session, the authority also adopted a comprehensive Broadband Communications Plan, which details the authority’s goal “to achieve 95 percent affordable digital subscriber line (DSL), fiber optic (fiber) or equivalent broadband transmission service of 2019 Federal Communications Commission minimum standards.”
They also agreed on a community mission, with the objective of “reducing capital costs and start-up operating expenses for private sector providers to provide next generation broadband access in unserved and underserved areas of our rural community with a choice.”