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Expanding broadband a top priority

The need for good, quality internet connections in homes and businesses is greater than ever given the COVID-19 pandemic’s impact, and Lunenburg County Administrator Tracy Gee made it clear local government is focused on the need for broadband expansion in the county.

“It is our top infrastructure and technology priority,” she said.

Tracy Gee

She noted in an email interview Thursday, Nov. 5, that Lunenburg County is currently under grant with Kinex Telecom and the Virginia Tobacco Region Revitalization Commission to add middle-mile and last-mile connectivity.

“They should complete the project soon,” she said.

Broadbandmatters.com helps explain what is meant by the terms “middle mile” and “last mile.”

The site notes that broadband infrastructure consists of the backbone, which involves broader, regional concerns; the middle mile, which involves anchor institutions in a community like local government entities and schools; and the last mile, which brings the connection to residents’ homes and small businesses within the telephone exchange or cable company serving the area.

“Jim Garrett of Kinex has been very helpful in discussing our internet options in this rural area and assisting us with questions we have,” Gee said. “We are partnering with Mid-Atlantic Broadband (MBC) to apply for the newly offered funding pool to ‘Fast-Track Broadband Projects’ and, if awarded, could help increase bandwidth for existing customers.”

She said the county is continually seeking opportunities to increase connectivity, especially in the rural areas.

“The challenge is that the ‘take rate’ and household density is lower in the rural areas of Lunenburg, and broadband is expensive to build out,” she said.

According to muninetworks.org, a “take rate” is the number of subscribers to a service, typically expressed in a percentage of those taking the service divided by the total number of people who could take the service.

The COVID-19 pandemic has led to schools instituting virtual learning this year, greatly increasing the importance of children and families having quality access to the internet.

The CARES Act has provided an added avenue of funds to help provide relief in the face of the novel coronavirus. However, the CARES Act funds need to be spent by Dec. 30, otherwise they will be returned to the federal government.

“The timeline for CARES funding is prohibitive for meeting completion deadlines for broadband projects, so we do not have a broadband project planned with CARES funding,” Gee said.

But broadband help could come sooner rather than later to Lunenburg through another avenue.

“The grant application with MBC, if approved, would increase data capabilities and bandwidth for existing customers,” Gee said. “This could help with the sluggish connections due to an abundance of people using existing bandwidth while working and completing schoolwork at home.”