County approves $40K for broadband plan

Published 5:28 pm Friday, September 25, 2020

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Charlotte County is on the path to bring broadband capabilities to homes within the county as the Board of Supervisors have approved entering into an agreement with RiverStreet Networks to produce an engineering plan.

The broadband fiber to the home network engineering plan comes with a $40,000 price tag to the county.

According to the county administration office documents, the engineering plan will provide the county with a map of existing fiber networks and outline phases of proposed fiber buildouts, including cost and other information associated with those fiber buildout phases.

“I think broadband needs to be looked at as a needed utility,” Supervisor Donna Fore said.

Fore, who has been outspoken for the need of broadband in the county, said the engineering plan was needed because having the study was like having the foundation of a home.

“We need this study regardless,” she said. “But building a fiber network takes time.”

County officials are expected to receive the plan from RiverStreet Networks by February 23, 2021.

Once complete, the county can use the plan to apply for grant applications with any internet service provider to assist in future fiber broadband buildouts.

Short term, the county has been working with the Director of Charlotte County Library System, Jim Watkins, to develop solutions for meeting internet needs in the county.

Each of the county library locations is in the process of receiving updated internet hotspot capabilities.

The updated internet hotspots will provide 3 mbps download, and 1 mbps upload to all connected patrons within the range of the libraries’ internet network and provide service from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m.

Last fall, Charlotte County officials learned that infrastructure construction to provide broadband internet for the county could start as early as this year but that soon changed.

RiverStreet Networks representative Robert Taylor told the Board of Supervisors (BOS) during a September 2019 meeting that Charlotte County was first on the company’s list to provide internet as part of the Connect America Fund.

A Federal Communications Commission (FCC), Connect America Fund grant in the amount of $6,359,724 for rural broadband is expected to supply service to 2,567 locations throughout the county.

According to Taylor, Charlotte is no longer number one on RiverStreet’s list. The company has moved Pittsylvania to the top of its list.

“Once we went back and started the process, the operations and engineering people said it made more sense to start in Pittsylvania County where we had a core network and build that network out versus starting in Charlotte County and building back towards it”, Taylor said.

The FCC requires that RiverStreet supply broadband to those counties within the next six years.

RiverStreet Networks, based in North Carolina, specializes in last-mile broadband service and installing broadband in rural areas with low population density.