FRANKLIN COUNTY, Va. – With more and more families working and learning from home, Franklin County leaders signed a $4.6 million dollar deal on Tuesday to boost broadband service in the county.
Phase 1 of the project will provide faster internet service to about 20,000 homes, which is more than half the county.
Locals, like Michelle Ousley, said that’s a big deal.
“That’s great. I mean, because that’s what we need,” said Ousley. “I actually have a disabled child that has to learn from home, you know what I’m saying. And we have to homeschool her. And [the internet connections is] always cutting the teachers off; they’re always calling back. So definitely, it’s going to be a blessing.”
Michael Grimm also lives in the county and runs his own business. He and his employees work from home sometimes, but spotty internet makes it hard to get things done.
“It’s very, very slow, very poor connectivity,” said Grimm.
The county’s Director of Planning and Community Development, Steven Sandy, said that 70 percent of residents don’t have adequate internet access and 30% don’t have any internet at all.
“In light of all the issues with schools and remote learning and working from home, this is a big step for the county to be able to get that access to a number of our citizens,” said Sandy.
The project was made possible by a $2.4 million Virginia Telecommunication Initiative (VATI) Grant from the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD). The project is also funded by a significant private investment from the broadband providers Blue Ridge Towers and its subsidiary BRISCNET, as well as Shenandoah Telecommunications Company (Shentel).
“The county’s got to play a significant role in putting these puzzle pieces together for our citizens and for our businesses,” said Franklin County Supervisor Lorie Smith.
Over the next month or two, Blue Ridge Towers will begin construction on eight new wireless towers and additions to four existing towers. BRISCNET will provide the internet service through the fixed wireless system. The system will provide internet speeds from 25-100 mbps. Shentel will also install about 6.5 miles of fiber, which should take about 6 months.
Phase 1 will be finished by the end of 2021. Residents should start seeing better service in the next two to six months.
County leaders also agreed to move ahead with Phase 2 and apply for an additional grant in August.