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Northern Neck broadband project gets more funding
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Northern Neck broadband project gets more funding

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A Northern Neck partnership working to bring fiber-optic broadband to 7,500 unserved locations has gotten another $8.5 million in federal grants for a total of $18.8 million in funding.

The additional money marks the second time in two weeks that the partnership, which involves an assortment of businesses and government entities, has gotten financial support for the regional fiber-to-the-home broadband network. The project will serve homes and businesses in King George, Northumberland, Richmond and Westmoreland counties.

“The last few weeks represent a watershed moment in our long journey,” said Jerry W. Davis, executive director of the Northern Neck Planning District Commission. “There is a lot of work to be done, but we’re in a better position than ever before and the objective is finally in sight.”

The Planning District Commission is working with All Points Broadband, Dominion Energy Virginia and the Northern Neck Electric Cooperative, as well as government officials in each affected locality to bring high-speed internet service to an estimated 5,000 residents and 31 businesses.

The plan is for electric companies to use existing right-of-way easements—on power lines used for phone access—to lay 217 miles of what’s known as “middle line” fiber. Then, All Points Broadband will put down the “last mile” fiber cable to reach homes that aren’t in densely populated areas.

“Access to reliable internet is more critical now than ever,” said Ed Baine, president of Dominion Energy Virginia. “We’re optimistic about how much these efforts could help communities here in our home state.”

The most recent grant came from federal broadband funds, and the project also received $10.3 million last month from the first round of Virginia Telecommunication Initiative, or VATI, grants. The Northern Neck funding was part of $29.6 million designated to bring better connectivity to an estimated half a million residents of Virginia.

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“This project is incredibly exciting and will lead to universal coverage in a huge portion of the commonwealth that has been left behind for too long,” said Evan Feinman, chief broadband advisor for Gov. Ralph Northam.

Those involved hailed what Jimmy Carr, CEO for All Points Broadband, described as “a new model for bringing fiber-optic broadband to communities that have been passed over.” He said his company plans to start construction on the project later this year and will work with its partners to finalized Phase II efforts.

Carr said the broadband company is looking for opportunities to partner with other jurisdictions to expand the effort.

Annie Cupka, chairwoman of the King George Board of Supervisors, said more public-private partnerships seem to be “the model the commonwealth is prioritizing to achieve its goal of universal broadband in under 10 years.”

Nick Minor, King George’s director of economic development and tourism, said the “fact that it’s fiber-optics gives businesses the ability to compete with just about anyone. ... It truly is a game-changing project.”

Norm Risavi, county administrator in Westmoreland, hoped the “hard-wired connection” would alleviate some of the frustration residents have felt especially since the pandemic began, and many have worked from home or helped their children with virtual classes.

“We feel this offers the best opportunity to be able to reach out to these folks who are in sort of no man’s land, who are not receiving any kind of service other than a satellite which is not as satisfying as a hard-wired connection,” he said.

Residents of the Northern Neck can visit fiber.allpointsbroadband.com to register, determine if their location is included in the project’s initial phase and sign up for project updates.

Cathy Dyson: 540/374-5425

cdyson@freelancestar.com

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