FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: December 17, 2021
(The County of Bland) – Bland County, like several localities across the Commonwealth of Virginia, was excited to be named in a tremendous regional effort to deploy broadband coverage in a fiber-to-the home solution to more than 3,372 homes and businesses that currently do not have service throughout the county. The $27,433,186 of grant and private investment into Bland County is expected to create a tremendous positive impact on various aspects of life and commerce.
“This project would not have been successful if it was not for several people working collaboratively locally, regionally, and across the Commonwealth of Virginia with the end goal of achieving universal broadband coverage,” stated Stephen Kelley, chair of the Board of Supervisors. This regional project started in November 2020, when Bland and Pulaski Counties announced a regional initiative to study broadband internet accessibility and capacity. This study was part of a larger three county project, which included Montgomery County, in correlation with Appalachian Power and private internet service providers in the deployment of fiberoptic and other broadband infrastructure to unserved and under-served areas of the three localities. The survey of residents was the first step in the study, which has concluded with significant participation from residents, with 1,346 completed surveys (667 Bland / 679 Pulaski). “The amount of participation by the residents in the study was very important in documenting the need,” stated Supervisor Randy Johnson. He continued, “[a]pproximately 20% of the households (3,356) in Bland County participated in the study which got us started and we are grateful for the wonderful support of the community.”
The Bland County grant award was part of a three-county project totaling $135,725,363.00 with a $68,355,355.00 VATI award leveraged by $67,370,008.00 in private and other public funding to include direct ARPA funds. The project will potentially serve nearly 20,000 unserved residential, business and community units throughout the three jurisdictions.
“We all are very excited about this announcement; however, we want to thank everyone for all the work and dedication to improve broadband services in our area,” stated Adam Kidd, member of the Board of Supervisors and the Bland County Wireless Authority. Kidd continued, “[t]his has been a united initiative to improve connectivity in our communities that will have lasting positive impact into the future.” Supervisor Karen Hodock echoed the sentiments of her fellow Board Members, “[t]he Wireless Authority, along with County Administrative staff, the Board of Supervisors, all have been working on this challenge for several years we are appreciative of the work that has been done and continues to be done by local, regional, state, and federal agencies, as well as corporate partnerships to see this project become a reality. We are eager to see what positive impacts this development will have throughout our communities.
The first step in this regional broadband initiative was the study of existing infrastructure and to determine the capacity of download and upload speeds available to residents and businesses. The three localities worked together with the same consultants, Thompson & Litton / Blue Ridge Advisory Services Group, to analyze the current broadband capacity and identify served and unserved areas. Appalachian Power, working with local internet service provider GigaBeam Networks, have been analyzing the data and developing potential network designs. “The team that has worked on developing this project has been amazing to witness”, stated Eric Workman, County Administrator. Workman continued, “[t]he collaborative efforts by all involved from the three localities (Bland, Montgomery, and Pulaski Counties), the Planning District Commissions (Mt. Rogers and the New River Valley), Appalachian Power, GigaBeam Networks and All Points Broadband, Appalachian Regional Commission, the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development, Virginia Industrial Advancement Alliance, and the outstanding support of the General Assembly and the Governor’s office, as well as many others, to address the broadband issues of our area and rural Virginia as a whole are what makes projects such as this a reality. We are thankful for all of those efforts to get us to where we are today, with the goal of addressing the broadband issue once and for all in our rural region.”
The project involves installing fiber optic cable on Appalachian Power’s utility poles, with the added benefit of providing a more robust communications platform for the company’s deployment of new electric meters and distribution automation (DA). The new smart meters and DA equipment improve service reliability for power customers. Space on Appalachian Power’s middle-mile fiber infrastructure is then leased to internet service providers. Appalachian Power’s pilot broadband projects are made possible by the 2018 Grid Security and Transformation Act, 2019 Broadband Pilot Program legislation.
Appalachian Power is developing a preliminary middle-mile fiber design and has filed an application seeking project approval from the Virginia State Corporation Commission. The three-county project is projecting to serve approximately 20,000 unserved broadband customers. This pilot project will require approval from the Virginia State Corporation Commission.
Once the project receives approval from the Virginia State Corporation Commission, it is anticipated that six (6) to nine (9) months of engineering will be needed and approximately 18 to 24 months of construction.