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Little broadband progress seen

Following a broadband work session Thursday, June 3, the Charlotte County Board of Supervisors is no further along in learning how RiverStreet Networks will begin construction to bring internet to citizens.

RiverStreet Networks representative Robert Taylor addressed supervisors, telling them his company was, “In it for the long haul,” but were waiting on a USDA loan to be released before they could move further.

Taylor said the company’s engineer is currently working on design plans.

Last fall, in an effort to bring broadband capabilities to homes within the county, the Board of Supervisors approved entering into an agreement with RiverStreet Networks to produce an engineering plan.

The broadband fiber to the home network engineering plan comes with a $40,000 price tag to the county.

In the fall of 2019, Charlotte County officials learned that construction of infrastructure to provide broadband internet for the county would start as soon as early 2020 when RiverStreet was granted $6,359,724 for rural broadband to supply service to 2,567 locations throughout the county as part of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), Connect America Fund grant.

During a fall 2019 Board of Supervisors meeting, Taylor told the board that Charlotte was first on the company’s list to begin construction.

Then they weren’t first.

According to Taylor, Charlotte is no longer number one on RiverStreet’s list. The company has moved Pittsylvania to the top of its list.

“Once we went back and started the process, the operations and engineering people said it made more sense to start in Pittsylvania County where we had a core network and build that network out versus starting in Charlotte County and building back towards it,” Taylor said.

According to Taylor, RiverStreet has nine counties across a southern part of Virginia they will be supplying broadband to.

The FCC requires that RiverStreet supply broadband to those counties within the next six years.

According to the FCC, RiverStreet has received Connect America Funds (CAF) each year since 2016.

“If you look at what we’ve received for CAF, we received funding to pass 2,567 locations in the county within a six-year period. And we’ve got about $6.4 million. And that’s an average of $2,477 per location,” said Taylor. “Now our cost to build is just over $9 million, which gives us a shortfall of about $2.8 million.”

According to Taylor, a USDA loan will help RiverStreet with a portion of the shortfall.

During the work session, Supervisors Kay Pierantoni questioned Taylor if RiverStreet would release the county’s southern portion to another provider who could offer service sooner.

“Mecklenburg Electric has a business model and serves that end of the county,” Pierantoni said. “I’m just trying to get internet for our citizens. I hear you saying you don’t have enough money, and we have big blocks to cover, and they’ve (Mecklenburg Electric) got the line, and they have been running fiber.”

County Administrator Dan Witt said, “We need to have a conversation with RiverStreet and Mecklenburg Electric because they are building in that area.” 

Taylor said his company welcomed other broadband providers to partner with them, but they would need to follow the same business model as RiverStreet.

Taylor further said that since COVID-19, one delay had been a backlog of getting the actual fiber needed to install. “With COVID there has simply been more demand than there is supply.” he said.