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The members of the Board of Supervisors, who also comprise the county’s Broadband Authority, have worked decisively this summer to tap into massive and unprecedented state funding to deliver high-speed broadband infrastructure to all underserved areas in Rappahannock County. Because we have been moving quickly to meet a flurry of state-mandated deadlines, I thought it important to pause for a moment and address the most common questions citizens have raised in recent days.
How did we get here? In June, we invited thirteen internet service providers (ISPs) to tell us if they might be interested in working with our county to pursue Virginia Telecommunication Initiative (VATI) funding for universal broadband coverage for our citizens. Leesburg-based All Points Broadband, in cooperation with Rappahannock Electric Cooperative, is the only ISP that both responded to our request and offered a specific plan to deliver broadband infrastructure to all underserved households in Rappahannock County.
On July 23, we issued a letter to the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) stating our intent to pursue VATI funding.
Six days later, on July 29, we voted to join a handful of counties to our north and west in a regional agreement to pursue VATI funding in partnership with All Points Broadband, Rappahannock Electric Cooperative, and Dominion Energy.
How much will this cost? On Sept. 1, All Points Broadband presented to us a cost estimate of $19.4 million to provide fiber-based broadband infrastructure to approximately 2,000 underserved households in Rappahannock County.
All Points Broadband committed to providing $6.5 million toward the project, while proposing to seek $7 million in VATI funds for Rappahannock County.
On Sept. 7, local resident Charles “Chuck” Akre and his family pledged $3.5 million toward the project, which leaves us with a $2.4 million local obligation, or just over 10 percent of the total project cost.
We voted Sept. 7 to apply for VATI funding as part of a regional application, and All Points Broadband submitted the application earlier this week to the DHCD.
Are my taxes going to go up? Put simply, no. We are working diligently to identify all possible outside grant and other non-local sources of revenue to fund as much of our $2.4 million local obligation as possible. Aside from this effort, we already have in hand $1.8 million in pandemic-relief funds, and an initial commitment from the school system to contribute close to $400,000 in grant funding toward the county’s broadband effort.
How long until the fiber network is installed and operating? If the state approves our VATI application, and if we reach a final agreement with All Points Broadband and Rappahannock Electric Cooperative, we expect that the system will be built and operating within approximately three years of the date of our agreement, and no later than the end of 2024.
If I already have high-speed internet, will I have to switch my service? No. If you already enjoy high-speed internet service from Comcast or another provider, you will not need to switch to All Points Broadband.
What happens next? We expect the state to respond to our regional VATI application by the end of this year. If the grant application is approved, we will work in early 2022 to hammer out the details of a contract with All Points Broadband and Rappahannock Electric Cooperative to make sure that (A) the promised infrastructure is delivered on time, and (B) our local obligation does not exceed the $2.4 million we agreed upon last week.
After twenty years of talking about how to bring seemingly out-of-reach high-speed internet service to Rappahannock County, I am pleased to report that universal broadband coverage is finally on our doorstep, and at little or no cost to taxpayers.
As this critical infrastructure initiative moves forward, I will continue to provide here periodic updates to keep all of our citizens informed.
The writer is chair of the Rappahannock County Board of Supervisors and Rappahannock County Broadband Authority