Contract approved in landmark countywide broadband project

By: Michael Campbell | Twitter: @DinwiddieMonitr
Posted: September 25, 2019 | 1:45 p.m.

RiverStreet seeks to connect thousands through fixed wireless internet

DINWIDDIE – Dinwiddie and Amelia Counties are one step closer to seeing many of their residents being able to reap the benefits of high-speed internet access as both boards of supervisors formally approved entering into contracts with a service provider as part of a large-scale broadband project that has been years in the making.

Last week, both the Dinwiddie and Amelia County Board of Supervisors unanimously accepted a contract with RiverStreet Networks, a North Carolina-based internet service provider following a lengthy and detailed review process as part of a million-dollar broadband expansion project supported by the Virginia Tobacco Region Revitalization Commission. Both governments’ approval of the project now gives Riverstreet the green light to move forward with project development with the aim of bringing thousands of Dinwiddie and Amelia County residents online.

This project dates back well into 2018 when, as part of a joint application submission, Dinwiddie and Amelia were both selected to receive a $1.7 million grant from The Tobacco Commission to help support local and statewide efforts to expand broadband services to underserved and unserved portions of the Commonwealth, largely comprised of rural sections of the state.

The $3.4 million received by the counties as part of their joint application came from a pool of $10 million in state funds from the commission’s research and development committee to assist in the construction of “last mile connections,” which refers to bringing service from the broadband infrastructure, such as a tower or fiber connection to the end user, the consumer, at their home or business. Those localities applying for grant funding from the pool had to have projects that sought to expand service into unserved areas of the commission’s footprint at “speeds of at least 10Mbps, “with preference given to localities applying in conjunction with private-sector partners.”

At that time, Dinwiddie and Amelia had partnered with StraightUpNet, an ISP based in Amelia County but, since that time, in an effort to see what other companies and newer technology was available, both counties opted to re-issue a request for proposals to the business community, with RiverStreet Networks providing the most compelling application.

According to the company’s website, RiverStreet Networks began as an extension of Wilkes Communications in North Carolina, providing telecommunications services across Wilkes County. Much like many smaller telecommunications and utility providers are doing of late, RiverStreet saw an opportunity to use their infrastructure to help expand high-speed internet access to rural communities, with the company providing fiber-to-the-home services in the mid-2000s.

Recently, as part of their internet expansion efforts, the company was the recipient of $32 million from the Federal Communications Commission to help finance the connection of over 13,000 locations across Southern Virginia. RiverStreet and Prince George Electric Cooperative, who received over $15 million during the summertime allocation, were the only two entities in the state to be selected during this most recent wave of federal funding.

In their proposal, RiverStreet’s concept of internet service delivery to much of Dinwiddie and Amelia County centers around the use of a fixed wireless system utilizing currently existing and newly constructed towers that would deliver service to the end user with the goal of transitioning to “the gold standard” of broadband fiber delivery to the home or business user in the future.

An example of the equipment used for customers to receive the wireless internet services.

The June 2019 document further details speed and service costs for users, with the promise of 25 megabits of download speed and 3 megabits of upload speed at a cost of $35 per month for residential customers and $45 monthly for small office clients. Enterprise users, such as larger business or office users, would receive the same speeds but their costs would be quoted on an individual basis.

They also plan to offer a reduced rate of $35.75 per month for those families with students who receive free and reduced lunch.

In addition, standard installation of equipment would be free, with no activation or cancellation fees.

When detailed practically, to watch streaming service Netflix, the company recommends a minimum of three megabits per second to watch content on their service in standard definition, with five megabits being recommended for high-definition streaming and 25 megabits per second for Ultra HD, or 4K, streaming. For gaming, Microsoft, makers of the Xbox line of video game consoles recommends a minimum of three megabits per second of download speed and a half-megabit upload, noting the higher your speed, the better the user experience will be.

According to data provided by the FCC, the service expected to be offered by RiverStreet Networks would be an improvement over what is currently available in Dinwiddie and Ameila County for residential users. Through their research, the agency found large portions of both counties lack access to broadband speeds of at least 25 megabits per second in terms of download. When looking at Dinwiddie specifically, the highest concentrations of that speed is found right along Intertstate 85 from McKenney northward to the county’s more populated areas near Dinwiddie’s borders with Petersburg and Chesterfield.

With the proverbial green light being given by the two localities, work on the project will begin immediately with a completion date of three years, with the possibility of an additional one-year extension. Jody Call, chief technology officer at Wilkes Communications and RiverStreet Networks is ready to hit the ground running on bringing internet service to thousands.

“Our mission at the heart of our cooperative is to serve the unserved and underserved populations in rural areas,” said Call. “Just as we were incorporated in 1951 to provide telephone services in rural areas, we have come full circle in meeting the ever-present need of providing broadband in rural America.”

That commitment is further shown by RiverStreet as the company has pledged $1 million of their own funds to match the nearly $3.5 million in state dollars to help in the development and execution of this broadband expansion project. During last week’s board meeting, County Administrator Kevin Massengill, who has been intimately involved with broadband expansion efforts in Dinwiddie for years spoke to the importance of a project of this scale.

“Traveling from homeowner’s associations meetings, to churches, to gas stations, and anywhere in Dinwiddie County, if you listen to the public, they have talked to [members of the board of supervisors] about this so we know how much of a top concern of the public,” he remarked. “This is a historic contract. We sign contracts a lot as authorized by the board but, this is one of the more important contracts of my career here, being able to provide service that is so significantly needed in the county.”

“From our regular citizens, to students, to a farmer, our business community, being able to move forward with this is a good opportunity for us,” Massengill continued.

According to the county administrator, they are planning a series of meetings where the community can interface with RiverStreet representatives and learn more about the project and the service delivery road map first hand.

“Broadband is a top concern of our citizens and has been a goal of this Board,” Supervisors Chairman for Dinwiddie William Chavis remarked. “RiverStreet delivered a solid plan that will best meet the needs of our citizens. We are grateful for the support of the Tobacco Commission and our partnership with Amelia County.”

Evan Feinman, Executive Director of the Virginia Tobacco Region Revitalization Commission and Chief Broadband Advisor to Governor Ralph Northam shared following news of the two county’s contract adoption, “The Tobacco Commission, along with Governor Northam, has made broadband a top priority. All of the Commissioners are thrilled to see Dinwiddie and Amelia moving forward with their projects and we all look forward to seeing thousands get access to broadband.”

The community can learn more about the entire project and the journey to last week’s contract signing at the county’s website at http://dinwiddieva.us, where documents and other materials have been hosted as part of Dinwiddie’s commitment to transparency during this multi-year process.

Copyright 2019 by Womack Publishing
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