Prep underway for broadband install in county

Published 4:30 pm Thursday, September 22, 2022

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The installation of fiber optic cable that will bring universal broadband coverage to the area has begun in Suffolk, and some citizens in Southampton County have received construction notices indicating that preparations are being made for installation work there.

Back in December 2021, the office of then-Gov. Ralph S. Northam shared a news release announcing new grants that would advance Virginia 90% to the goal of achieving universal access to broadband and high-speed internet, with Southampton and Isle of Wight counties and the city of Suffolk among the localities set to achieve universal coverage.

Ashley C. Covington is marketing and existing business manager for Franklin Southampton Economic Development Inc., and she noted that at some point in the past, Southampton County asked FSEDI to “figure out this broadband need and what was out there for it.”

She noted that there are two funds relevant to broadband in the region — the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund and the Virginia Telecommunication Initiative Grant.

A part of the FSEDI website focused on broadband initiatives describes the RDOF as a program created by the federal government, administered by the Federal Communications Commission, to aid in the provision of high-speed broadband access to the most rural of areas. RDOF is a program between the FCC and a registered provider, meaning that Southampton County has no control over the selection, delivery, award process, etc.

“We were made aware that Charter (Communications) received some of those federal RDOF funds for Southampton County,” Covington said.

The FSEDI website notes that the Virginia Telecommunication Initiative is a program administered by the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development. The program is a grant process by which local governments and internet and/or cable service providers complete an extensive application process. The DHCD then reviews and chooses the top applicants to receive program funding. 

Covington noted that the county partnered with Charter to apply for the VATI grant in 2020.

“We unfortunately did not get that award,” she said. “But 2021 came around, and Charter came back to us, but this time with Isle of Wight County and the city of Suffolk.”

Southampton, Suffolk and Isle of Wight, in conjunction with Charter/Spectrum and the Hampton Roads Planning District Commission, submitted a regional grant application for DHCD’s 2022 VATI cycle, which totals around $21 million, the FSEDI website states. Southampton County stands to service 4,962 previously unserved residences and businesses in the most rural areas.  

The December 2021 news release from Northam brought the good news in response to that application.

“Thankfully we did receive that grant, and one reason that we’re able to reach universal coverage is because Charter leveraged those RDOF grants in our VATI grant application to be able to say, ‘At the end of this, we’ll use both of these funds, and these three localities will have universal coverage,’” Covington said.

The FSEDI site notes that the regional grant application was awarded $21.1 million to go along with the $13.8 million provided by the localities and Charter Communications/Spectrum.

“The city of Franklin already has universal coverage through Charter,” Covington said. “Every citizen in the city of Franklin has access to Charter, so that’s the only reason that the city wasn’t part of it.”

Covington said installation of fiber optic cable is underway in Suffolk, and she shared what she knows about progress in Southampton.

“I know that I’ve gotten a phone call from a couple of people that have received construction notices,” she said. “So the way that they will do the build-out is when they get to your area, you’ll get a door hanger that just notifies you that construction is starting, and it’ll give you a business card for your construction team in case that resident has any issues or has any questions or things of that nature and just to give people a heads up, ‘Hey, we’re working in the community.’”

She also made a point to emphasize that construction related to the installation of the cabling is a phased process.  She noted that people tend to get excited when they see work being done and think they are going to have service the following week.

“But it’s not quite that fast,” she said. “So they come through and they lay the conduit first, which is what people will see — the big orange rolls. And then they come back and run the fiber through it, and then there’s an actual powering-on process that happens. 

“So there still is a little bit of time after you see construction start, but once it starts, they’re in your area, and that’s where they’re focusing on,” she continued. “So it is a good thing, but it is a little bit of a process to get everything laid.”

Covington also supplied a rough time table for when those doing the work expect to be finished and everyone is expected to have broadband access.

“Their greatest hope, with no huge delays, is that it will be done in three years, starting when construction started, which was end of July, early August,” she said.

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