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Broadband funds available

For years Charlotte County officials have been discussing options and seeking ways to bring broadband internet service to the county. With Gov. Ralph Northam’s announcement on Wednesday, Oct. 7 that Virginia is allocating $30 million in CARES funding to improve broadband access in underserved localities, county officials are hoping to be on the receiving end, but they would need to make quick decisions.

Localities must apply for the funding. Eligible projects are those able to be completed within the time constraints on spending federal dollars, which means more Virginians could get connected to high-speed, broadband internet by the end of the year.

County Administrator Dan Witt said although it appears broadband is a priority for the governor with the time constraints, funding could be a challenge.

“The county would have to apply for a grant to receive funds plus; we’d have to bid, build, and complete the entire project by Dec. 25,” Witt said. “This would be a challenging undertaking, even without COVID-19. The funding does have the potential to benefit the county, but the board will have to select a manageable project that can be completed in about 10 weeks.”      

The CARES Act funding allocated to this initiative is separate from other broadband funding streams. Localities are encouraged to creatively address the digital divide, including projects that address infrastructure or the cost of broadband services. 

The following are examples of eligible projects.

“Broadband is to today’s economy like electricity was generations ago—when you have it, you can get ahead,” Northam said. “High-speed internet is essential for students to connect to education, business to connect to the wider world and citizens to connect to work. The COVID-19 pandemic has made this even more clear, as so much of our lives have moved to virtual platforms.”

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 in September.

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.