With all of these lockdowns going on in the midst of the Coronavirus’ stay here, access to broadband and stable communications is clearly more important than ever. Naturally, this also means it’s a big priority for Westmoreland County’s Board of Supervisors, who have been working to get the service to more people in the county. Norm Risavi, the County Administrator, went into detail.
“A few years ago, the four counties formed the Broadband Authority,” he explained, addressing the many misfires that had taken place as well. “Over the years, we’ve had several starts and stops, and we were fortunate enough that Atlantic Broadband and their predecessor have extended broadband service to communities with higher densities.”
Of course, with the fears about COVID-19 grinding things to a halt, suddenly, zoom and canvas meetings are replacing the conference halls and classrooms of the years before. As one might imagine, it’s a problem to be stuck in the boonies during a period where everyone interacts via the internet, and have unreliable internet. Risavi was quick to acknowledge this.
“The problem is that there are still a significant number of county residents who do not fall within that footprint to retrieve broadband services which are essential to the schoolchildren and people who telecommute,” he continued. “A lot of federal employees have contacted me, and they’ve tried everything from satellite to different services, and according to them, there’s nothing that compares with having a hard line connection.”
Westmoreland County’s School Board got around this by passing out chromebooks and hotspots. In the meantime, some folks that stopped in a few months ago from All Points Broadband are still conducting a study and applying for a grant that will help with funding.
Planning Commission Director Beth McDowell went into further detail of the preliminary findings of the study that had been conducted. According to her research, there are as many as 1,200 unserved structures in the county, which in turn impacts an estimated 2,769 residents. Regionwide, from King George to Northumberland County, there are estimated to be around 5,600 unserved structures and impacting 12,372 people.
According to Risavi, the county has to come up with $325,000, which is the same amount that Richmond and Northumberland counties have committed to their part. This is all part of a region-wide 10% match on the funding through Dominion, Northern Neck Electric Co-op, and All Points Broadband. The other key assumption is that the grants will go through. King George County, meanwhile, dumped in half a million.
For those worried that the money that is shelled out will find its way to one county and not the other, they can relax. According to McDowell, the money a particular county has set aside cannot be affected until the project finds its way there. So Westmoreland County’s funds won’t start being used until work starts up in the county.
With the motion to fund the project going through unanimously, Westmoreland County has plunked in its share of the match, with the entirety of the board looking to help ease the strain that the Coronavirus crisis has placed on the more isolated county residents.