Two broadband projects get support

Two very different efforts to expand broadband internet access earned the Louisa County Board of Supervisors’ support at its Nov. 2 meeting.

The board had no trouble backing a $340,000 allocation of federal government money to extend fiber-optic cables along several roads in the Green Springs area. The funds were made available through the CARES Act, passed last April, but only became available this month.

Central Virginia Electric Cooperative’s subsidiary, Firefly Fiber Broadband, will install the cables in underground trenches along 4.2 miles of Loving, Campbell and West Green Springs roads. The cables and “drops” for up to 87 households in the area must be installed before the end of the year.

“Every step counts,” said board Chairman Bob Babyok (Green Springs District). “This project extends fiber in areas where there is none, and that means internet access for Louisa families.”

The roads are in Dominion Energy’s territory, which is why CVEC has to put the fiber below ground. Firefly has used the cooperative’s own electric poles to install overhead fiber cables as it extends broadband to CVEC customers, but it can’t count on using Dominion’s infrastructure.

Louisa County previously gave CVEC a $550,000 tax abatement to help the cooperative pay for its broadband project, which will give some 3,000 households and businesses in western Louisa access to high-speed internet when completed.

Melissa Gay, a CVEC spokeswoman, said Firefly will send a letter this week to people who are eligible for the service. She said residents can also check Firefly’s website to see if their address is included in the affected area.

Firefly and Louisa County are also partnering to find a suitable location for a free Wi-Fi hotspot in the southwestern part of the county that will provide access at up to 30 mbps with no data caps, Gay said.

The CARES Act funds were channeled through the office of Governor Ralph Northam, who made them available to localities on a first-come, first-serve basis. 

The other broadband project the supervisors considered is a proposal by SCS Broadband to upgrade several of its wireless towers in the county to LTE, a technology that makes possible internet download speeds of 50 megabits per second. The company needs the county’s support to apply for $300,000, also from the CARES Act.

Board members have grown skeptical of SCS, which is the only tenant on the wireless towers the county erected over the past four years. The company refused to reveal publicly how many people have received broadband service from the towers. 

But SCS is about to be acquired by a North Carolina firm, RiverStreet Networks, and supervisors Duane Adams and Fitzgerald Barnes (Mineral and Patrick Henry districts) said they are impressed with the buyer. Adams said RiverStreet “is the real deal.”

The supervisors indicated they will support the SCS effort. But they said they would provide the funds to the company through reimbursements, rather than up-front, and only after SCS “proves” it can accomplish the work. The LTE upgrades need to be in service by Dec. 25, according to County Administrator Christian Goodwin.

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