Delays are pushing back the completion date for fixed wireless internet towers around Franklin County. The county’s broadband authority voted last week to request an extension on a deadline to fund the projects through the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development.
The department’s Virginia Telecommunications Initiative grant provided $2.4 million in funding to Franklin County in January 2020 through a partnership with Blue Ridge Towers and Briscnet. Blue Ridge Towers builds the fixed wireless towers while Briscnet installs the fixed wireless internet service and provides it to communities surrounding the towers.
VATI’s deadline to complete the project was Oct. 15. According to presentations by both Blue Ridge Towers and Briscnet last week, one or more of the towers in the project will be unable to meet that deadline.
The most significant delay is the tower proposed in Westlake. Work has yet to begin as discussions are still ongoing concerning the tower’s proximity to Booker T. Washington National Monument.
Park staff have expressed concerns the 160-foot tower less than a mile away will affect views from the park. According to statements from staff, the tower could break the immersion of being in the 1860s when Booker T. Washington was freed from slavery after being born on the property.
Sean Cai, project manager for Blue Ridge Towers, said his company is working with the Federal Communications Commission and the State Historic Preservation Office on a process to mitigate any visual impacts to the park. From those discussions, Blue Ridge Towers will be given the go ahead with the project in its current location behind Grand Home Furnishings, or move the tower to a new location in Westlake.
John Manning, chief operating officer for Briscnet, said at last week’s meeting that delays on multiple towers are due to the necessary equipment and specialized workers needed to finish the project being in short supply. He estimated that work on most towers would be completed by the end of August, but admitted it could take longer.
Currently, Briscnet only has one fixed wireless tower operational in the county providing broadband internet. That tower is in the Scruggs area.
“It being over a year, this is unacceptable,” said Lorie Smith, Gills Creek District representative.
While some supervisors expressed concern over the delays, the broadband committee voted unanimously to request a deadline extension from Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development.