Supervisors are moving ahead with a partnership and grant application that could bring broadband internet to many of Loudoun’s long-unserved homes.
The county board voted unanimously Tuesday, July 20 to dedicate $12.4 million as matching funding for an overall $72 million project to offer broadband to approximately 8,800 homes. The county’s portion of that funding comes from federal American Rescue Plan Act funding allocated to Loudoun, and the vote was hoped to give the county the best chance of winning a $17.7 million Virginia Telecommunications Initiative grant toward that project.
The grant application brings together All Points Broadband, Dominion Energy Virginia, and the Northern Virginia Electric Cooperative to run fiber optic cable along power lines to reach broad swaths of western Loudoun. They would charge customers $199 to install broadband up to 500 feet away, with a monthly fee of $79.99 for 100 Mbps upload and download speed. The project is hoped to begin in the summer of next year and take two years to complete. The county expects announcements from the state on grant applications in late December.
Western Loudoun Supervisors Caleb A. Kershner (R-Catoctin) and Tony R. Buffington (R-Blue Ridge) thanked their colleagues for the support for the project. Chair Phyllis J. Randall (D-At Large) agreed that the COVID-19 pandemic illustrated that broadband is not a luxury, but a necessary utility, as did Jimmy Carr, the CEO of All Points Broadband, and former FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, who joined the All Points board after a major investment from Searchlight Capital Partners, where he is a partner. Both spoke to the board during the public input session of the meeting Tuesday.
“It’s this kind of public-private partnership that is a model for closing the digital divide, and frankly Loudoun could be a model for the nation,” Pai said.
Kevin Noll, of the Loudoun Broadband Alliance, called it “our generation’s rural electrification project.”
A county staff report describes the current crop of state and federal funding in unusually floral—but nonetheless possibly completely factual—language as a “a once-in-a-generation investment in broadband.”
In addition to the federal ARPA funding Loudoun will use to help expand broadband, the state’s investment in broadband is expected to grow with Governor Ralph Northam’s announcement last week that he proposes investing $700 million of the state’s ARPA allocation in last-mile broadband infrastructure.
Northam said the proposal will accelerate his existing 10-year goal for achieving universal internet access by four years, from 2028 to 2024, with the majority of connections obligated in the next 18 months.
Northam made the announcement at the Southwest Virginia Higher Education Center in Abingdon, and was joined by, among others, state Sen. Jennifer B. Boysko (D-33), who chairs Virginia’s Broadband Advisory Council.
“It’s time to close the digital divide in our Commonwealth and treat internet service like the 21st century necessity that it is—not just a luxury for some, but an essential utility for all,” Northam said. “The pandemic has reinforced how important high-quality broadband is for health, education, and economic opportunity, and we cannot afford to leave any community behind.”
“The Broadband Advisory Council has long prioritized funding to reduce the cost of broadband access and connect unserved Virginians,” Boysko said. “With this investment of American Rescue Plan dollars, we will greatly accelerate our progress.”
The General Assembly will convene in special session Aug. 2 to fill judicial vacancies and allocate more than $4.3 billion in federal relief funding.