By Amir Vera, The Progress-Index
PRINCE GEORGE — The county is continuing to make strides to bring wireless broadband to citizens.
Jeff Stoke, deputy county administrator for community and economic development, has presented options for providing broadband services throughout Prince George. Stoke said the county has been looking at different options since 2007. That same year, the county received a $25,000 technical assistance study grant from the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development. They received another in 2008 and have since used both for broadband initiatives.
“We [also] had a Virginia Tech Speed Test done of the area and we also agreed, as a board, to spend about $315,000 to ask Mid-Atlantic Broadband to extend their fiber loop rather than just going down Route 460 and going through the industrial park,” Stoke said.
Stoke said the county is now looking to enter into an agreement with Design Nine Inc., a wireless broadband architect and business model service provider. Under the agreement, Design Nine would act as an architect for the wireless broadband system that would be done in two phases, 60 days each. Stoke said costs for the agreement would not exceed $41,500.
“The idea is starting at Yancy [Road], putting a tower there, using the connected back-call line down West Quaker Road and tying into the Mid-Atlantic Broadband fiber loop,” Stoke said.
Design Nine, Stoke said, has developed systems in Blacksburg, Danville, the Eastern Shore, the Wired Road in Southwest Virginia and is currently working with Louisa and Charles City County to develop systems.
“We would be able to piggyback off of the Louisa County project. They actually put out a [request for proposal] last year with the hiring of Design Nine Inc., in January,” he said.
Stoke added that the county has also applied for an additional $200,00 grant through the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development, which was submitted Sept. 30. This grant would be used for soft costs and initial construction. At this point, Stoke said, in the broadband capital account for fiscal year 2016 the county has $132,059.62.
“I see possible connections to other communities [such as] Charles City, Sussex or Surry as a way to package our towers together to provide them to an [Internet service provider] at a certain rate so they would have coverage that would extend beyond our own county,” Stoke said.
While board members did agree that broadband was a priority in the county, some had reservations. Some worried about the expensive pricing to the county without the commitment or a clear idea of whether or not the technology will last.
“To me it’s a gamble either way you go,” Carmichael said. “I just don’t hear any guarantees until the $41,000 is spent.”
Stoke said he has called other companies and counties.
“Louisa is just getting started. The others are in full implementation and loving it. Danville is getting 23 cents on the dollar back in their pocket as a city. It’s small, but it’s a revenue stream,” he said.
Stoke added that this was very important to the citizens of the county for more than just recreational Internet access.
“There’s a population of people out there who can’t check their kids’ grades, can’t do their homework, can’t load money on their lunch accounts and those are the people calling my office every week,” he said.
District 2 Supervisor William Gandel said some parts of the county have always struggled with Internet access.
“The need for broadband in the Eastern part of Prince George where I live ranks in the top three from the citizens,” Gandel said.
Board chairman William Robertson said the lack of Internet also causes added stress to citizens.
“There’s a demand in the county for broadband, there’s no ifs, ands or buts about it,” Robertson said. “I hear it from the parents of the kids at the school, they get tired of coming to the library to do work.”
Stoke has typed up a resolution to enter into an agreement with Design Nine Inc., which has been put as an action item for the Oct. 27 board meeting