County pursues broadband lease as grassroots petition seeks action

Conduit for fiber-optic cables waiting to be installed near Louisa County High School in 2018. The county government will release a request for proposals for private companies to lease the fiber, which runs along major roads in several areas of the county, and sell internet service to nearby homes and businesses.

The county government wants a private company to provide broadband internet service to homes via a fiber-optic line installed last year to link the six public schools.

While the fiber line was installed primarily to benefit the schools, the county included its own fiber strands for future use. Now officials plan to issue a request for proposals to find an internet service provider interested in leasing the fiber.

The fiber cables cover a 31.5-mile path along South Spotswood Trail (Route 33) from Trevilians Elementary School east to the town of Louisa; south on Courthouse Road (Route 208) to Moss-Nuckols Elementary; southeast on Jefferson Highway (Route 33) to Jouett Elementary; and east on Davis Highway (Route 22) to the middle and high schools.

Louisa County Public Schools used a $1.1 million federal grant to pay most of the cost of burying its fiber lines. As a result, the schools saw dramatic increases in internet download speeds.

The county spent another $175,000 to add its fiber before construction crews finished the work. In addition to the road sections noted above, the county fiber extends along Industrial Drive in the Louisa County Air Park to serve businesses and county facilities there.

Meanwhile, an online petition calling on public officials and current and potential internet providers to step up efforts to bring broadband to the county garnered more than 1,000 signatures in the past two weeks.

Tim Layne, a member of the Louisa County Broadband Authority, used his Louisa Residents for Internet Service Facebook page as a means to draw attention to the petition. He also launched an email letter-writing campaign directed at Rappahannock Electric Cooperative, which recently asked the county to make a financial commitment to help it extend broadband service to its customers.

“I’m just hoping some of the local and state officials will see there’s a demand right now in Louisa,” he said. “I’m trying to kick up some dust.”

Layne has received a lot of positive feedback about the petition, including from some fellow broadband authority members. The authority has not met since the coronavirus crisis began in March.

The authority spent several years implementing a $1.1 million network of towers to provide residents with broadband via wireless signals. It’s unclear how many households have received enhanced internet service from the network.

“In the long run, it’s going to take a combination of all these technologies to get us what we need in Louisa,” Layne said.

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