Broadband project now accelerated

Published 1:14 pm Friday, October 6, 2023

The process that will bring universal access to broadband and high-speed internet in Southampton County has been accelerated thanks to some help from out-of-state workers that Charter/Spectrum was able to bring to the area.

Franklin Southampton Economic Development Inc. President and CEO Karl T. Heck shared this news in his update to the Southampton County Board of Supervisors during the board’s Sept. 26 meeting.

“The broadband project’s moving more quickly than anticipated,” he said. “Spectrum got some crews from Wisconsin that couldn’t work in the cold anymore, so they’re coming down here, and they’re working.”

The accelerated pace due to the added manpower is quite significant.

“They’re operating at about 5 miles a day of construction instead of the 1 mile that they were working at before,” Heck said. “So they are anticipating a late summer 2024 completion now for their project, so they moved it up a few months.”

Heck noted that for the public’s knowledge, in Southampton County, the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund and the Virginia Telecommunication Initiative projects are all going to be done at the same time.

“In Suffolk and Isle of Wight, they did them separately because the RDOF funding was available first and then the VATI funding, but now that they’re both available, they’re just going to do them all at once,” he said.

BACKGROUND ON THE FUNDING

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.

In the fall of 2022, Ashley C. Covington, who was the marketing and existing business manager for FSEDI at the time, noted that there were two funds relevant to broadband in the region — the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund and the Virginia Telecommunication Initiative Grant.

FSEDI’s website stated that the RDOF was 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. 

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

The FSEDI website noted that VATI 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. 

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 stated. 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 regional grant 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.