FINCASTLE — The Botetourt County Broadband Commission received a report Friday outlining a phased plan for building broadband infrastructure in unserved areas of the county.
The county is one of many in Virginia seeking ways to bring high-speed internet service to a largely rural setting. Nearby Bedford and Franklin counties, for instance, are both in different stages of trying to bridge the same broadband gap.
Botetourt County hired Sandie Terry, a consultant county officials discovered during last year’s broadband summit, to prepare a report on how it could best tackle the lack of internet access.
Terry has spent her career in information technology across different industries, including state and local governments. She served as the IT director in Franklin County for 10 years and led an initiative to expand broadband there. She’s also worked in Halifax, Grayson, Amelia and Powhatan counties.
Terry’s report found that more than 30 percent of Botetourt County addresses have no access to fixed broadband, including almost 400 businesses. Using this data, Terry organized the county into five sections and prioritized which ones should be served first.
Priority is based on how many locations lack broadband access , initiatives already in place to build infrastructure there, and the “take rate.” The take rate is an estimated percentage of how many locations are likely to subscribe to broadband service if it were available — based on household income, education level and the age of residents.
“You build to the greatest demand first because those revenues will then offset the costs of building to the more sparse areas,” Terry said.
The first project phase includes a large section of eastern Botetourt County, which has more than 1,700 unserved locations and an estimated take rate of 60 percent. Craig-Botetourt Electric Cooperative already has committed to spending $2 million in matching funds to build fiber connections to its customers in the area.
“But that is not enough to do all this, so there’s got to be public funding added to this,” Terry said. “The only way we’re going to get broadband to our rural areas is public funding, because it wasn’t profitable, so we have to put public funding into the capital costs. The revenues will cover the operations, but we have to bridge that expense.”
Botetourt County is already partnering with the electric cooperative on an application for this year’s Virginia Telecommunications Infrastructure grant, which would bring broadband to one area within this phase.
The second phase is a smaller area in central and western Botetourt County with more than 1,600 unserved locations. Lumos Network is targeting 300 to 600 of these locations for fiber upgrades this year and will continue to work with the county on scheduling future upgrades.
Phase three would serve the westernmost part of the county. Phase four would be a small section of the southernmost part of the county west of Daleville, and phase five would be the northernmost section of the county near Eagle Rock.
Outside of the five phases, there are still small areas of the county that will be unserved. Terry suggested the commission issue a request for proposals, allowing providers to present plans to bring broadband to those areas.
Botetourt County Board of Supervisors member Mac Scothorn said he would like to get the that process started right away.
Terry also suggested the county look into constructing its own fiber wide-area-network for its own facilities. This could lower costs and also improve network management in the long run, she said.
The broadband report, with specific numbers and information on each phase, is available at botetourtva.gov/your-government/board-of-supervisors. For access, click the “Studies and Reports” link.
Below “2019 Botetourt Broadband Strageties” is a survey for county residents to input addresses and comments, which will which will help providers decide on priorities for building fiber networks .