A voice from Franklin County will represent Southwest Virginia on Gov. Ralph Northam’s Broadband Advisory Council.
Assistant county administrator Steve Sandy — who prior to his promotion last week served as Franklin County’s director of planning and community development — was appointed to the council by Northam in September.
“I feel like it’s a good reflection on Franklin County that the governor and the state have said, ‘We think they’re doing good things there, so we think representation on this council would be advantageous,’ ” Sandy said. “I feel honored to have been appointed. Hopefully we can do some good things.”
Sandy joins Del. Chris Hurst, D-Montgomery, in representing the region on the council. “Other that than, there’s not a lot of representation from this part of the state,” Sandy said.
Sandy pointed to Northam’s Oct. 7 announcement of a $30 million allocation of federal CARES Act funds to speed up development of statewide broadband projects as a prime example of how urgent the subject has become since the COVID-19 pandemic sent students to virtual classrooms and made business owners and their employees work from home.
“This is obviously a hot topic now and something that’s a priority,” Sandy said. Regarding the additional infusion of CARES Act money, “one of the problems is the time frame. Any project that you do has to be completed and the dollars expended by Dec. 25. That’s going to be tough.”
Despite the inherent challenges — “You can’t go out and build new towers, you can’t really do a lot of fiber projects and get all the permits and get all the approvals” — Franklin County intends to apply, Sandy said.
Franklin County won a $2.4 million Virginia Telecommunication Initiative grant from the state in January that let the county go forward with plans to extended fiber optic cable to Union Hall and Penhook and bring access to wireless to a number of the county’s most rural communities.
In August, the Franklin County Board of Supervisors signed off on using $1 million in CARES Act funds to purchase six 80-foot community poles for the expansion of wireless broadband to residents around Boones Mill, Glade Hill, Ferrum and Rocky Mount.
“We’ve been heavily involved in broadband in the county here, trying to crack that nut, solve the problem,” making high speed internet available in Franklin County’s remote, mountainous regions via fiberoptic cable or wireless transmission, Sandy said. “That’s not unique to us, that’s rural Virginia, rural America.”
However, when it comes to advances in rural broadband, “it’s a different story in Tidewater than it is in Franklin County or Southwest Virginia,” Sandy said. “The hills and and valleys and rocks make it a little more challenging out here than it does in Virginia Beach, even Richmond.”
Sandy’s term on the council will be two years. He sees the benefit of his appointment as “being able to provide some perspective, not only for Franklin County but for this region, and make sure that the needs of this area are met, and not left out.”
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