County commits $8.9m to broadband

The Louisa County Board of Supervisors unanimously voted at the Sept. 7 meeting to match funding for the Firefly Fiber Broadband project as long as it does not exceed $8.9 million. 

The vote was in response to Firefly’s request for financial help. The project is a collaborative effort of Central Virginia Electric Cooperative, Dominion Energy, and Rappahannock Electric Cooperative to extend high-speed internet to the entire county by 2025. 

The board had agreed in September 2020 to set aside $15 million for broadband, without specifying how it would be spent. The county and the three electric companies announced their partnership in spring 2021. 

Firefly intends to use the county funds as part of the local government match for a Virginia Telecommunication Initiative grant from the state Department of Housing and Community Development. The total construction cost of the VATI portion of the broadband project is $75 million, with a total project cost of $87.5 million to extend broadband to the rest of the county.

Gary Wood, Firefly’s chief executive officer, presented a cost analysis to the board, showing the areas that still need financial support. The county funds would be used strictly to serve underserved residents in the VATI area, which is largely within the Rappahannock Electric Cooperative and Dominion Energy service areas.

In a related matter, the Louisa County Broadband Authority held its first meeting in several months on Sept. 1 to discuss its future. The authority was formed in 2014 and used $1.1 million in county funds to build a network of wireless towers to provide enhanced internet service.

With the county now working to implement a fiber-optic system, the wireless alternative is no longer the focus. It's unclear what the broadband authority's role will be going forward, as the supervisors have taken the lead on the fiber-optic project. Mary Johnson, a longtime authority member, announced at the Sept. 1 meeting that she would step down, according to a report in the e-newsletter Engage Louisa.

Last updated at 11:13 a.m. on Sept. 10. An earlier version of this article misstated the total cost of the broadband project, which is $87.5 million.

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