The Rappahannock County Broadband Authority discussed next steps in the regional agreement between eight northern Virginia counties and All Points Broadband on Monday, raising questions about the cost of the project for county residents.
The Northern Shenandoah Valley Regional Commission submitted an application to the Virginia Telecommunications Initiative (VATI) last month in an attempt to secure state funding for a universal broadband project, and the county won’t know until December if it will be granted the money.
All Points, the county’s chosen private partner, assured the Broadband Authority and Board of Supervisors that residents could expect to pay $199 for the first 12 months if they wanted to sign up for fiber-to-the-home service, no matter their location in the county.
Jackson District Supervisor Ron Frazier pointed out that the VATI application does not specify when the 12 months would start, and he’s concerned that residents might have a smaller window of time to get service for cheap. Stonewall-Hawthorne District Supervisor Chris Parrish said All Points CEO Jimmy Carr told the Board of Supervisors and Broadband Authority that the 12 months would begin once service is available in the county.
According to the VATI application, “[All Points Broadband] marketing materials will also highlight APB’s commitment, for the first 12 months after it is available, to provide service to any serviceable unit (regardless of service drop length) for the same one-time installation charge of $199.00.”
“I was just thinking through the phrasing of it, because once we get to the contract phase, which would actually be binding, I think a lot of that lies with what Ron is suggesting, [we’ll] want to expand any operative language,” Hampton Supervisor Keir Whitson said.
According to a statement from Carr to the Rappahannock News, “If the grant is awarded, customers would have 12 months from the date on which service is available at their location to take advantage of the special offerings for the first year. The 12 month period at any given location would not start for that location until a subscriber at that location could actually have service installed.”
Frazier also expressed concerns about a section in the application that states “Each Participating County has agreed to assist All Points with all required permitting and easements at no cost to the project, providing additional leverage in the form of approximately $1,200,000 in cost savings for the project.”
Frazier said the county has had no such discussions with All Points.
Carr wrote in his statement that “All participating counties have agreed to provide the kind of in-kind support that is customary for a grant funded project of this nature. To be clear, there would be no additional cost to Rappahannock above the local match that has already been made.”
Right now, All Points is in the middle of working to ensure their coverage areas won’t overlap with those already being served by high-speed internet providers and locations that are receiving federal funds for other broadband projects.
Lonnie Hamilton, a planner with the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development’s Office of Broadband, joined the meeting on Monday via Zoom, and said that process is to make sure nobody gets “left behind.”
“I think it's a question of ... maximizing the utility of state money and making sure that we aren't overbuilding, but ... providing broadband when there are thousands of people across the Commonwealth that don't have broadband,” Hamilton said.
The authority will reach out to Carr and invite him to a November meeting to answer additional questions.