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County looks to bring broadband to rural communities

County looks to bring broadband to rural communities

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Franklin County approved plans Tuesday that could provide broadband to rural communities in Snow Creek, Ferrum and Windy Gap. The projects are part of an ongoing effort to improve countywide internet service.

The county’s broadband authority, consisting of members of the board of supervisors, voted unanimously to move forward with a grant application to the Virginia Telecommunications Initiative grant program. Funding from the grant would be used to provide broadband internet to more than 400 homes in Snow Creek.

Briscnet, part of Blue Ridge Towers, is working with the county on the Snow Creek project. Anthony Smith, president of Blue Ridge Towers, said broadband internet would be provided by fixed wireless from a nearby tower in the community. Fixed wireless could provide internet speeds as high as 25 Mbps, much higher than speeds currently provided in the area.

If awarded, the VTI grant would provide $465,000 toward the program as an 80/20 split. VTI would pay 80 percent of the grant, while Briscnet or the county would have to pay the remaining 20 percent.

“We would start at Snow Creek as a pilot project,” said Steve Sandy, director of planning and community development.

Sandy said the county is also working with Shentel to provide fiber broadband lines to communities in Windy Gap and Ferrum. The lines could provide broadband speeds as high as 1 Gbps.

The county is applying for a grant from the Tobacco Region Revitalization Commission that could provide funding to 80 homes in Ferrum and 114 homes in Windy Gap. If awarded, the grant would provide 50 percent of the costs for the project. Sandy said Shentel had agreed to cover the other 50 percent of the costs.

The broadband authority also approved Design Nine Inc. of Blacksburg as the county’s broadband consultant tasked with creating a broadband master plan. The cost for the consultant was $24,300, with most of that coming from a $20,000 grant from the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development. The remainder will come from $75,000 set aside for the county for the broadband authority.

Sandy said Design Nine will take the next three months to pool the county’s information on broadband services to make a recommendation on priorities and best practices. Design Nine then will come to the broadband authority for a recommendation on how to proceed with providing broadband.

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