‘We really have nothing at this point that we can vote on’
The Rappahannock County Broadband Authority meeting scheduled for Monday was canceled as the county awaits to hear in December whether it will be awarded state funding for a local internet expansion initiative.
Broadband Authority Chair Debbie Donehey and County Administrator Garrey Curry are out of town on Monday for a conference, and Donehey said the authority doesn’t have immediate business to vote on.
“The more I thought about it with it being so close to the holidays and the fact that we really have nothing at this point that we can vote on — because until the grant award occurs, we don't even know that we have anything to discuss,” Donehey said.
Broadband Authority Members Keir Whitson, also Hampton supervisor, and Chris Parrish, also Stonewall-Hawthorne supervisor, agreed with the other members to cancel the Nov. 15 meeting, according to Whitson.
Member and Jackson Supervisor Ron Frazier said he disagreed with canceling the meeting, saying he has several outstanding questions and that “the County has critical information that is necessary to keep moving forward. The Authority needs to have these discussions in public.”
“When the application was submitted for Rappahannock, neither our Board or the Authority (same folks) read it. It has the County taking care [of] all ‘permits and easements.’ So, does that mean the County is going to use eminent domain?” Frazier asked. “Also, if the 12 months starts whenever service is first connected in the ‘region’ and the buildout is extended to 36 months, if one part of the region is serviced in 12-18 months but Rappahannock not until later, what happens? … We need to know ‘what’ and ‘when.’”
Member and Piedmont Supervisor Christine Smith wrote in an email that it’s “Tough to build consensus and get things done if we don’t meet…”
Rappahannock County entered into a regional agreement with seven other counties and private internet provider All Points Broadband in an effort to secure state funding through the Virginia Telecommunications Initiative (VATI). Being awarded the grant would mean Rappahannock would be responsible for $5.9 million of the total cost of universal broadband for the county, which All Points estimated to be $19.4 million for 270 miles of fiber infrastructure.
The state will finalize grant allocations in December, and the Rappahannock County Board of Supervisors and Broadband Authority will have to vote if they want to make a financial commitment to the project and enter into the final phase of the agreement.
Donehey said she’s been in the process of trying to secure other avenues of funding to help fund Rappahannock County’s portion of the project. Washington resident Chuck Akre pledged $3.5 million in a signed letter to the board before a major vote in September that made Rappahannock a part of the VATI application.
“We do have [Northern Piedmont Community Foundation] working with us to try to put together a way that philanthropic donors can actually submit a donation to help with this game changer of technology for the county, and we will probably vote on that [next month],” Donehey said.
The Broadband Authority will meet next month at an undetermined date and time.