(WFXR) — After Gov. Ralph Northam announced new grants that will bring broadband and high-speed internet access to 90 percent of Virginians, a number of localities around southwest and central Virginia announced more specific plans about how the funding will help connect community members.

ROANOKE COUNTY:

Roanoke County is pleased to announce it has been awarded four Virginia Telecommunication Initiative (VATI) grants totaling more than $3.7 million to fund broadband expansion for residents. The County partnered with internet service providers to leverage more than $7.7 million to improve broadband connectivity throughout the County.

On Monday, Governor Northam announced $2 billion in (VATI) grants awarded to localities across Virginia to achieve near-universal access to broadband and high-speed internet. In this application year, VATI received 57 applications from 84 localities that partnered with 25 internet service providers, requesting more than $943 million in funding.

Below are the Roanoke County projects that received grants.

Roanoke County and Craig Botetourt Electric Cooperative will leverage $1,646,138.00 to build fiber broadband to 495 unserved locations and achieve universal coverage in Roanoke County when combined with other projects. $1,581,584.00 of VATI grant funding was awarded for this project.

Roanoke County and Cox Communications will leverage $1,597,927.00 to build fiber broadband to 396 unserved locations and achieve universal coverage in Roanoke County when combined with other projects. $1,535,264.00 of VATI grant funding was awarded for this project.

Roanoke County and Shentel will leverage $510,000.00 to build fiber broadband to 213 unserved locations and achieve universal coverage in Roanoke County when combined with other projects. $490,000.00 of VATI grant funding was awarded for this project.

Roanoke County and B2X Online will leverage $177,572.00 to build a wireless broadband network to connect 290 locations in Roanoke County when combined with other projects. $170,609.00 of VATI grant funding was awarded for this project.

In addition, Franklin County received a grant to fund a joint regional broadband project with Roanoke County that will connect 23 households in the adjacent border communities of Windy Gap Mountain Village (Franklin County) and Beldon Woods Estates (Roanoke County).

Over the next couple years these newly announced projects, along with recently completed projects, will provide high-speed Internet connections to more than 1,800 unserved and under-served homes and businesses across Roanoke County. These Roanoke County Rural Broadband Initiative projects support the strategic initiative to “Connect Roanoke County to the World,” as outlined in the County’s 2016 Community Strategic Plan.

Statement released by Roanoke County on Dec. 14, 2021

PITTSYLVANIA COUNTY:

The Pittsylvania County–RiverStreet Networks partnership to bring fiber-to-the-home internet to every unserved home in the County got a boost with the announcement of a significant grant award. As part of a larger, multi-locality project, Pittsylvania County and RiverStreet Networks have been awarded approximately $39.5 million from the Virginia Telecommunication Initiative (VATI) for internet expansion. Along with investments from RiverStreet, Pittsylvania County, and Pittsylvania County Schools, these funds are facilitating the deployment of a $75 million fiber-to-the-home network that is expected to reach 12,000+ unserved locations, as defined by the Federal Communications Commission, within three years.

“This grant award is a major milestone in meeting our commitment to bring reliable and affordable internet access to unserved households in Pittsylvania County,” said Bob Warren, Chairman of the Pittsylvania County Board of Supervisors. “The Board of Supervisors understands the important role that internet access plays in our world today, so we are absolutely thrilled that this joint project with RiverStreet Networks and Pittsylvania County Schools is coming to fruition. We are grateful that the Virginia Telecommunication Initiative (VATI) is helping us reach almost 12,000 unserved locations in our County with quality internet coverage. We will continue to leverage funding and make strategic investments until every County resident has internet access.”

“We are excited about this opportunity for the students of Pittsylvania County,” said Sam Burton, Chairman of the Pittsylvania County School Board. “This grant funding, combined with the commitment from the School Board and the County, will provide our students with the much-needed technology and internet connections to further expand the opportunities for educational success. This is a great day for the students of Pittsylvania County Schools!”

“Our reliable infrastructure solutions have helped the communities we serve prepare for today’s demand for high-speed internet for remote learning, virtual meetings and much more,” states Eric Cramer, RiverStreet Networks President/CEO. “RiverStreet Networks is proud and pleased to be working on this project with Pittsylvania County. We are all connected by the internet.”

Pittsylvania County, Pittsylvania County Schools, and RiverStreet Networks signed a memorandum of understanding in September, jointly committing to leverage all possible funding opportunities to continue expanding fiber across Pittsylvania County. For the first phase of this project, Pittsylvania County and the Pittsylvania County Schools committed a combined $16.5 million to the effort, which RiverStreet Networks matched with $19.6 million. The remainder of the funding, $39.5 million, will come from the VATI grant. The award is part of more than $722 million that was allocated to 35 projects across the Commonwealth through the Virginia Telecommunications Initiative.

The $39.5 million award is part of a larger, $87 million VATI grant for RiverStreet Networks and the West Piedmont Planning District Commission, which includes several other rural Virginia counties. The Department of Housing and Community Development administers the VATI program, which provides financial assistance to extend broadband service to unserved areas.

This partnership between Pittsylvania County, Pittsylvania County Schools, and RiverStreet represents a major shift in the way that the Board of Supervisors is working to tackle a lack of internet access, one of the biggest problems facing Pittsylvania County. As part of a strategic plan adopted in 2019, the Board of Supervisors set a goal that at least 90% of county residents have broadband access by 2024.

Pittsylvania County and Pittsylvania County Schools are both contributing a significant portion of the funds received from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) to this project. From ARPA, Pittsylvania County is investing $6.5 million, and Pittsylvania County Schools is contributing $5.5 million. The remaining $4.5 million will be covered through a revenuesharing agreement with RiverStreet Networks. All of the funds generated through this agreement will be re-invested into additional broadband construction efforts.

RiverStreet Networks is an award-winning communications technology company headquartered in Wilkesboro, NC. For 70 years, RiverStreet Networks has played an active role in providing telecommunication services and connecting communities with broadband service. RiverStreet Networks is focused on delivering the latest and best technology to unserved rural areas. Service is provided in areas of North Carolina and Virginia with excellent telephone, internet, video, security systems and business solutions.

While there are a few other internet providers in Pittsylvania County, none have demonstrated a commitment to leveraging available funding opportunities to reach those who are currently unserved. RiverStreet Networks is built on a mission of using creative means to provide internet in rural areas that are simply not cost-effective markets for companies focused on profits. This project specifically targets those that do not have broadband access at this time.

As defined by the FCC, broadband access means download speeds of at least 25 megabits per second and upload speeds of 3 megabits per second. This is often referred to as speeds of 25/3. While this is the bare minimum speed for broadband, the majority of customers on RiverStreet’s Network are expected to have speeds that significantly exceed the broadband threshold, with the majority of them having speeds of 100/100.

Now that the award has been announced, RiverStreet Networks is expected to begin ordering the fiber-optic cable and moving forward with the network development. Those who are interested in RiverStreet Networks service can submit their information on this page, where additional updates, including coverage maps and timelines, are expected to be posted in the coming weeks and months.

While this project represents an unprecedented investment in expanding internet access, this does not represent the end of Pittsylvania County’s involvement. Pittsylvania County and RiverStreet are already pursuing additional funding opportunities and grants to expand the scope of the fiber-to-the-home network across the County.

Statement released by Pittsylvania County, RiverStreet Networks, and Pittsylvania County Public Schools on Dec. 14, 2021

According to Northam’s announcement from Monday, Dec. 13, this project for the West Piedmont Planning District Commission and RiverStreet Networks — which is set to be awarded with $87,003,888 and leverage $65,421,347 — will build fiber broadband for 24,641 unserved locations and achieve universal coverage in Amelia, Bedford, Campbell, Charlotte, Nottoway, and Pittsylvania counties when combined with other projects. 

AMHERST COUNTY:

Yesterday, Governor Ralph Northam announced $79 million in VATI grants to Firefly Fiber Broadband to place broadband fiber in 13 Virginia counties. Projects in Amherst County will be funded with $6 million in grant funds. In August 2021, the Amherst County Board of Supervisors partnered with the Thomas Jefferson Planning District and Firefly Fiber Broadband to apply for grant funds from the Virginia Telecommunication Initiative (VATI) to expand broadband access to underserved communities.

Preliminary planning for the regional project identified 4,322 locations in Amherst County as unserved, which is defined as areas without access to speeds faster than 25 mbps download or 3 mbps upload. Plans to reach these locations include 548 miles of new fiber optic cable installed in the County. The Board has approved using up to $3,025,400 in American Rescue Plan Act funds to match the grant. The project is expected to be complete in three years.

Statement released by Amherst County on Dec. 14, 2021

Northam’s office announced on Monday that the project for the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission and Firefly will be awarded $79,027,930, with $208,969,670 leveraged.

The project — which was supported by CSX through the Commonwealth Connect Fund — will build fiber broadband for 36,283 unserved locations and achieve universal coverage in Albemarle, Amherst, Appomattox, Buckingham, Campbell, Cumberland, Fluvanna, Goochland, Greene, Louisa, Madison, Nelson, and Powhatan counties when combined with other projects.

CAMPBELL COUNTY:

Campbell County is set to receive broadband grants through the following three projects:

  • West Piedmont Planning District Commission and RiverStreet Networks
    • Award: $87,003,888
    • Leveraged: $65,421,347
    • The project will build fiber broadband for 24,641 unserved locations and achieve universal coverage in Amelia, Bedford, Campbell, Charlotte, Nottoway, and Pittsylvania counties when combined with other projects. 
  • Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission and Firefly
    • Award: $79,027,930
    • Leveraged: $208,969,670
    • The project — which was supported by CSX through the Commonwealth Connect Fund — will build fiber broadband for 36,283 unserved locations and achieve universal coverage in Albemarle, Amherst, Appomattox, Buckingham, Campbell, Cumberland, Fluvanna, Goochland, Greene, Louisa, Madison, Nelson, and Powhatan counties when combined with other projects.
  • Campbell County and Shentel
    • Award: $5,443,000
    • Leveraged: $10,107,617
    • The project will build fiber and wireless broadband for 3,509 unserved locations and achieve universal coverage in Campbell County when combined with other projects.

While the first two projects have already been discussed in this article, Campbell County posted the following statement about the Shentel project:

Governor Ralph Northam’s Office announced Monday that grant awards from the Virginia Telecommunications Initiative (VATI) program would be distributed to 13 Virginia localities to support Broadband access to underserved regions. Campbell County, one of 84 localities that applied for funding, is slated to receive a $5,443,000.00 award ($10,107,617.00 leveraged) in partnership with regional private-service providers, and local provider Shentel, to increase access to fiber and wireless broadband.

The Campbell County Board of Supervisors, who also serves as the County’s Broadband Authority, has made comprehensive internet service a top priority over recent years. This additional funding will be applied toward the Board’s on-going initiative to offer County-wide high speed internet coverage, especially in limited access areas of the locality. With community input, the Board formed the Authority in 2019 to review and address immediate and long term broadband needs. To date, the Board has driven initiatives to increase access to homes, businesses and facilities, using CARES ACT funding.

VATI funds, coupled with CARES Act funding and American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds as well as leveraged grant investments from private internet companies, Shentel, River Street and Firefly, position Campbell County to now focus on service gaps in the County.

“Our Board is committed to helping our citizens in rural areas of the County receive high speed internet. With many working and learning from home, we realize the crucial need for reliable internet service not only for businesses, but for local families,” said Charlie Watts, Board of Supervisors – Brookneal District. “We look forward to applying these funds, in addition to CARES ACT funds, to improve the reach of our internet service framework.“

“We’re pleased to receive this funding from VATI and look forward to continuing the Board’s dedicated work toward meeting the technology needs of our residents, businesses, and educational system” said Frank Rogers, Campbell County Administrator. “The Board and staff will plan, review, and apply best options for impactful broadband expansion with support from federal, state, and regional programs and partnerships.”

Statement released by the Campbell County Department of Public and Employee Relations on Dec. 16, 2021

BOTETOURT COUNTY:

Botetourt County and LUMOS are pleased to announce that they have received funding for universal broadband coverage for homes and businesses from the Virginia Telecommunications Initiative (VATI) grant from the Commonwealth of Virginia. Universal broadband coverage means that all residents and businesses have access to reliable internet service with speeds that meet or exceed the federal definition of 25/3 service. This grant will allow delivery of Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) broadband connectivity to 1,901 addresses in Botetourt County. LUMOS is also planning additional expansion projects targeting universal fiber coverage in the area. Botetourt County will receive $3,084,796 in VATI grant funding.

This VATI grant follows two previous successful projects and a Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) funded CARES expansion project in Botetourt County serving a total of approximately 1,500 addresses and culminates the County’s work to deliver broadband connectivity to every residence and business. This initiative began in 2016 after a broadband demand study was completed, and the Botetourt Broadband Commission was formed by the Botetourt County Board of Supervisors (BOS). The Botetourt Broadband Commission goal is to advocate for the broadband expansion throughout the County to better serve homes and businesses.

“Botetourt County is ecstatic that we have been awarded this generous grant from the Commonwealth of Virginia,” says Chairman of the Botetourt County Board of Supervisors Dr. Mac Scothorn. “The last 21 months has shown us that it is imperative that all residents and businesses in Botetourt County have access to reliable internet service. This grant opportunity will allow universal broadband coverage to become a reality for our Botetourt residents and businesses. The Board of Supervisors is grateful to the Botetourt Broadband Commission who spearheaded this initiative in our County along with our partners at Lumos.”

“I am so pleased to continue our partnership with Botetourt County via this generational funding opportunity,” said Lumos CEO Diego Anderson. “Consumers in Botetourt will have access to ultra-high-speed fiber internet for working from home, virtual learning, e-commerce, and cloud computing. The benefit of this investment is a 100% fiber network that will help this community thrive in this new evolving Gig economy for decades to come.”

“On behalf of the Botetourt County Broadband Commission, we are deeply appreciative the Governor, through the DHCD, has seen the deep value our partnership with Lumos Networks will provide the citizens of Botetourt County”, says Walter Grigg, member of the Botetourt County Broadband Commission. “This investment in universal broadband coverage will not only bring service to the un and underserved, but it will also provide the infrastructure necessary for Botetourt County to be competitive in our ever-changing modern world. From educational opportunities to economic development, to property values, to remote healthcare, to advancing local agriculture; achieving universal broadband coverage is an accomplishment paralleled only by rural electrification efforts in the mid-30s. 

Grigg goes on to say, “We also appreciate gaining access is merely the first step in achieving the full value of this new ‘utility.’  The efforts of our Broadband Commission are only beginning. Once universal coverage has been achieved at the physical layer, the Broadband Commission will be focused on awareness of access, affordability programs for those qualifying, and partnering with experts to assure we are maximizing its utility. From telemedicine to remote working, to advanced agriculture, to educational advantages for our children; and beyond.” 

The estimated total project cost for the VATI project will be approximately $7.9 million. The $3,084,796 in VATI grant funding will be matched with approximately $4,824,937 from Botetourt County and Lumos, of which $2,602,514 will be from Botetourt County recovery act funds.

For more information about Botetourt County’s Broadband Strategy and to view a map of service areas, click here or visit www.botetourtva.gov.

Statement released by Botetourt County on Dec. 13, 2021

PULASKI COUNTY:

Pulaski County was successful in receiving a Virginia Telecommunication Initiative (VATI) grant to deploy a universal broadband deployment project that would deliver a fiber-to-the-home solution to more than 7,800 unserved residents, businesses and community anchors throughout Pulaski County. The $29,122,669.00 VATI grant will leverage an additional $29,122,669.00 in both public and private funding to effectively construct the $58,245,338.00 project.

“Christmas has come early with the news of this award, and it will allow us to resourcefully cobble four different funding resources to make this monumental project possible, not costing the taxpayers of Pulaski County a penny. This has been one of the Board of Supervisors top priorities for decades and it is beyond extraordinary that we have solved the elusive riddle of universally deploying broadband to the remaining citizens in the County that do not currently have access to this important 21st Century infrastructure”, stated Jonathan D. Sweet, County Administrator. “The constellation of direct partners, to include Appalachian Power and All Points Broadband, as well as our neighbors of Montgomery and Bland Counties, were instrumental in the collective success of securing the necessary funding, and now the real work begins to deploy both middle- and last-mile fiber throughout the County to boldly take broadband where broadband has never gone before.”

The Pulaski County grant award was part of a three-county project totaling $135,725,363.00 with a $68,355,355.00 VATI award leveraged by $67,370,008.00 in private and other public funding to include direct ARPA funds. The project will potentially serve nearly 20,000 unserved residential, business and community units in throughout the three jurisdictions.

“This could be one of the most transformational public/private projects the New River Valley has seen in the last 40+ years”, stated Joe Guthrie, Chair of the Pulaski County Board of Supervisors. “The robust demand for bandwidth to telework, tele learn and connect to telehealth has grown immensely in the past couple of years, and providing our citizens with access to the gold standard of broadband will more than adequately support the needs of our citizens, businesses and institutions in every corner of the County.”

The project will involve installing fiber optic cable upon Appalachian Power’s utility poles, with the added benefit of providing a more robust communications platform for the company’s deployment of new electric meters and distribution automation (DA). The new smart meters and DA equipment improve service reliability for power customers. Space on Appalachian Power’s middle-mile fiber infrastructure will then be leased to a private internet service provider(s). This pilot program was made possible by the 2018 Grid Security and Transformation Act, 2019 Broadband Pilot Program legislation

Statement released by Pulaski County on Dec. 16, 2021

MONTGOMERY COUNTY:

On Dec. 13, Governor Ralph Northam announced that Montgomery County received a $27.6 million Virginia Telecommunication Initiative (“VATI”) Grant to assist with a $50 million project to bring high speed fiber optic broadband service to thousands of citizens and businesses throughout the County.

“Since we initially launched a broadband study in early 2019, our goal has been to find a way to help provide high-speed internet to all citizens and businesses in Montgomery County. We, as a government entity, understand the only way to achieve this goal is to partner with private companies like GigaBeam and Appalachian Power Company,” said Montgomery County Administrator Craig Meadows.

“Together, we applied for and were awarded the one of the largest VATI grants in the Southwest region of Virginia to date. This significant grant has created a path for citizens and businesses throughout Montgomery County to have access to high speed internet by the end of 2023.”

GigaBeam Networks and Appalachian Power Company are finalizing plans for the project that will bring high-speed internet for up to 8,822 citizens, businesses and community organizations located throughout Montgomery County.

GigaBeam Networks is excited to be part of this project that will provide fast, dependable, and affordable broadband to locations that never previously had it,” said GigaBeam Chief Executive Officer Michael Clemons.

“This couldn’t have happened without the teamwork and partnership between Montgomery County, Appalachian Power Company, and GigaBeam Networks. GigaBeam has worked with Appalachian Power to be the first in the nation to solve the rural digital divide in Grayson County through this unique solution and we look forward to continuing this proven method for Montgomery County.”

While the federal goal to provide universal broadband is 2030, Virginia set one of the most ambitious state goals by committing to bringing high-speed internet to citizens in 2024. With the VATI grant and the private-public collaboration in place, Montgomery County will accomplish the goal of bringing high-speed internet to its citizens by the end of 2023.

“We are eager and excited to work with Montgomery County,” said Appalachian Power’s Vice President of External Affairs, Brad Hall. “Our recent success in Grayson County demonstrates you can make high-speed internet accessible in rural areas, and we look forward to partnering and sharing our knowledge with this team.”

The network being designed and built is capable of speeds up to 10 gigabytes per second, with 1 gigabyte per second being provided initially.

“Our County has so many great things to offer all citizens; however, the lack of adequate internet service has been identified as a priority by everyone,” said Montgomery County Board of Supervisors Chair, Steve Fijalkowski.

“I’m happy to say we have heard the feedback from our citizens and we are going to respond to this need in short order.”

The full grant request included Montgomery, Bland and Pulaski Counties and a public-private partnership with Gigabeam Networks, All Points Broadband, and Appalachian Power Company. The total project estimate is $135.7 million and will bring fiber broadband to up to 19,966 unserved locations in Bland, Montgomery, and Pulaski Counties.

Montgomery County is allocating $6 million of American Rescue Plan Act funding; Appalachian Power and GigaBeam are allocating $16.4 million; and of the total $68.3 million VATI award, Montgomery County is receiving $27.6 million, bringing the total funding for the proposed 8,822 connections in Montgomery County to $50 million.

“This increases our ability to continue to attract both new and develop existing businesses and retain and attract new workforce in Montgomery County,” said Montgomery County Economic Development Director Brian Hamilton.

As they become available, project timelines and project updates will be provided at montva.com/broadband.

Statement released by Montgomery County on Dec. 16, 2021

WYTHE COUNTY:

The Virginia Department of Housing & Community Development announced Monday that Wythe County residents can expect universal broadband access by 2024.

Funding applications were due in September for $800 million in state broadband funding, and two projects competed to serve Wythe County: a fixed wireless project from Shentel and Wythe County, and a fiber-to-the-home project from Point Broadband and the Mount Rogers Planning District Commission.

Governor Ralph Northam announced funding for the Mount Rogers/Point Broadband project, a $98.9 million project to serve all unserved or underserved addresses in Wythe, Smyth and Washington counties.

“This is a great day for the residents and businesses of Wythe County,” said Wythe County Board of Supervisors Chair Brian W. Vaught. “The future of our economy rests on access to markets through the Internet for people, businesses, education, telework and telehealth.”

This project will be funded entirely by Point Broadband and federal and state dollars, requiring no local match. Point Broadband won similar funding in 2020 to serve the Speedwell area, and has been constructing its fiber network and rolling out service over the past eight months.

“We’re grateful to the Mount Rogers Planning District Commission and its staff, especially executive director Aaron Sizemore and deputy director Brian Reed, for leading this regional project to successful funding,” said Wythe County Administrator Stephen Bear.

Wythe County has been pushing to expand access to broadband in light of the Covid-19 pandemic. A broadband study last fall, advertisements for broadband provider partners, a funding application with Shentel and the announced investment of state ARPA funds into broadband all made county leaders optimistic about broadband expansion.

“The study we commissioned last fall made it clear this is the number one priority for the vast majority of county residents and businesses,” said Wythe County Assistant Administrator Matthew Hankins, who has directed the county’s broadband expansion efforts since joining the county in late 2020. “Our Board of Supervisors has given clear direction and support for our efforts, and we’re glad to have had strong partners who have helped us reach this point.”

“While our proposal with Shentel was not successful, we are grateful for the support of the Shentel team and for the efforts they made to meet a critical need here,” Hankins said. “While we don’t know the construction timeline yet, we look forward to working with Point Broadband to make high-speed communications services available to everyone.”

Point Broadband will enter into a contract with the State Office of Broadband and the Virginia Telecommunications Initiative (VATI) to commit to service levels and funding.

Statement released by Wythe County on Dec. 13, 2021

According to Northam’s announcement on Monday, the Mount Rogers Planning District Commission and Point Broadband project has an award of $65,883,228 and $33,052,600 leveraged.

The project is set to build fiber broadband for 27,450 unserved locations and achieve universal coverage in Smyth, Washington, and Wythe counties.