Lancaster County declined the offer to be part of Dominion’s broadband project, choosing instead to maintain its freedom to pursue all options.
Dominion plans to lay 85 miles of broadband cable from Northern Virginia down through the Northern Neck to connect its substations. It’s offering to let All Points Broadband Partners build out a network from that line, and according to the companies’ pitch, this middle mile initiative will bring broadband internet to 100 percent of the households that are currently unserved in counties that participate.
Dominion and All Points started pitching this idea before it received SCC approval, which is required to proceed. And once a county signs the memorandum of understanding agreeing to participate, that county is barred from participating in any other projects that compete with it. That participating county also vows to devote all of its broadband-related attention and resources to the middle mile initiative.
For Lancaster County Broadband Authority, that’s too much to ask since it’s trying to make multiple moves and see what shakes out.
One example, is Lancaster’s pursuit of the USDA Rural Utilities Service ReConnect grant. The county submitted its 314-page application just days before Dominion presented its broadband project.
“The application was found to be complete and we are now in the next phase where it has been posted as Lancaster County proposed service areas on the USDA RUS ReConnect website,” said Cassie Thompson, chair of Lancaster’s Broadband Authority.
She explained that significance of second phase is it allows “existing providers in Lancaster County to challenge any areas the Authority identified as needing grant funds to provide service that they already cover at better than a minimum speed of 10:1 mb/s.”
“This is an indication that the application is at least considered to be competitive,” she added.
Given its non-compete clause, Dominion wanted Lancaster to give up on the USDA grant. But the Broadband Authority wanted Dominion to waive the clause. Dominion refused, but did provide additional time for the county to consider the offer. In the end, both parties were entrenched in their position.
“We tried to keep the door open…but given where we were and given our prospects with the USDA, we felt that we needed to pursue the USDA opportunity,” Margaret Armen, secretary of the Lancaster County Broadband Authority, told the board of supervisors last month.
“We will not give up this opportunity to compete for the [USDA] grant,” said Thompson. And Dominion “stated that they are moving ahead with their project with the participating counties, that is, those counties which have signed the MOU.”
Furthermore, over a year ago, the Broadband Authority applied for a telecommunications planning grant offered by the Department of Housing and Community Development. Armen said they have completed all the work contemplated and are trying to secure the release of the funds. She said the broadband authority is getting closer, and if successful, that effort will bring a $40,000 payment to the county.
We’ve also been talking about applying for a VATI grant, which will require the county to submit its letter of intent in July, said Armen.
“Even though we think we have several irons in the fire, we can’t afford to sit on our hands and not apply for every opportunity that out there. We’re working on that,” she said.